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Forgotten classics: Advertising in a Free Society, by Ralph Harris and Arthur Seldon (1959)

Andrew D Pressey (Birmingham Business School, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, United Kingdom)

Journal of Historical Research in Marketing

ISSN: 1755-750X

Article publication date: 15 February 2016

Abstract

Purpose

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.

Design/Methodology/Approach

Advertising in a Free Society is placed in historical context (the Cold War), summarised and reviewed.

Findings

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.

Originality/Value

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.

Keywords

Citation

Pressey, A.D. (2016), "Forgotten classics: Advertising in a Free Society, by Ralph Harris and Arthur Seldon (1959)", Journal of Historical Research in Marketing, Vol. 8 No. 1, pp. 174-196. https://doi.org/10.1108/JHRM-11-2015-0049

Publisher

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Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2016, Emerald Group Publishing Limited