The purpose of this paper is to review Advertising in a Free Society – a defence of the advertising industry – by Ralph Harris and Arthur Seldon, and to evaluate its status as a justifiable forgotten classic of the marketing literature.
Advertising in a Free Society is placed in historical context (the Cold War), summarised and reviewed.
During the 1950s, as the UK experienced a period of affluence and growing consumerism, the advertising industry was again subject to the criticisms that had been levelled at it by influential scholars in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Against this context, Advertising in a Free Society deserves to be remembered as one of the earliest defences of advertising and remains highly relevant. Harris and Seldon were leading figures in the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), joining shortly after its inception, which became an influential group both in the UK and abroad, influencing policy on free markets.
Although Advertising in a Free Society attracted few citations (going out of print between its publication in 1959 and 2014 when it was republished by the IEA), and largely forgotten by marketing scholars, it provides a significant source for marketing historians interested in advertising criticism, the growth of the British advertising industry and the role of advertising in democratic societies. A reanalysis of the text situated in its historical context – the height of the Cold War – reveals that the text can be viewed as an artefact of the conflict, deploying the rhetoric of the period in defending the advertising industry and highlighting the positive role that advertising could make in free societies.
Pressey, A.D. (2016), "Forgotten classics:
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