Introduction to Irish marketing history

Journal of Historical Research in Marketing

ISSN: 1755-750X

Article publication date: 11 February 2014



Whelan, D.B. (2014), "Introduction to Irish marketing history", Journal of Historical Research in Marketing, Vol. 6 No. 1.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Introduction to Irish marketing history

Article Type: Guest editorial From: Journal of Historical Research in Marketing, Volume 6, Issue 1

The value of the dedicated, country specific volume was recognised by the Journal of Historical Research in Marketing in 2011 when Canadian marketing history provided the central focus and future issues will focus on Italy and Australia. Compiling this edition devoted to Ireland, specifically the 26 county Republic of Ireland, has been possible for a number of reasons. First, since the mid- to late-1980s, there has been a broadening of the focus of historical research in Irish universities beyond the national project, state-making and nation-building. Second, although there were extensive repositories of business and other relevant archives in Ireland, not least in the Public Record Office in Northern Ireland (PRONI) which became a “byword for administrative efficiency and an enlightened collections policy”, it was not until the passage of the National Archives Act in 1986 and the opening of the National Archives of Ireland in the Republic of Ireland in 1991, that a national repository was established. Thus, the work of individual historians, archivists, the Irish Economic and Social History Society established in 1970 and the Irish Manuscripts Commission which undertook the first survey of business records in the Republic of Ireland also in 1970, was rewarded with a dedicated premises, cataloguing resources and organised collecting policy. Since then the availability of macro-economic data, micro-level sources and business archives have elucidated key events in Irish history such as the 1845-1852 famine and wider themes such as external trade. Indeed since the 1980s, a substantial body of corporate histories has developed, again with the aim of elucidating the economic and social significance of the institution to the local community and linking it to wider national and international contexts (Ó hÓgartaigh and Ó hÓgartaigh, 2010, pp. 11, 12).

A consequence of the focus on state development was the neglect of many other themes such as the history of marketing. Indeed there is just one detailed study of the development of marketing in general and the role of the Irish Marketing Institute in particular: Marketing at the Millennium, A historical record of people, organisations and events that shaped the marketing profession in Ireland, 1947-2000 published in 2001 by Harry V. Woods. Woods was an early member of the Irish branch of the Incorporated Sales Managers’ Association (ISMA) and chairman of the Marketing Institute of Ireland in 1964 and 1965. The journal, Irish Marketing Review, established in 1986 has published few, although key articles on advertising, branding and marketing from an historical perspective. Marketing which commenced in 1999 and Irish Marketing Journal founded in 1982 are aimed at the industry and practitioners. Technically the London-based Marketing magazine, founded in 1931, included the Irish sales managers’ activities until 1949 at least, when a separate Irish group was formed but it did not even note that event (Woods, 2001). Included in Irish Marketing Review was John Fanning’s 2003 article “Irish advertising – bhfuil sé or won’t sé?” and his 2011 article “Branding and begorrah: the importance of Ireland’s nation brand image” along with an earlier version of Colum Kenny’s 2011 article “Not so quaint: early Irish reflections on advertising”. Both articles along with O’Boyle’s 2011 New Vocabularies, Old Ideas: Culture, Irishness and the Advertising Industry and John Strachan and Clare Nally’s 2012 Advertising, Literature and Print Culture in Ireland, 1891-1922, focused on the creation of a national Irish identity. Other studies by Fanning (2011), Swan (2011), Cronin (2011), King (2011), Moran (2011) respectively, focus on how advertising, marketing and branding were used to promote tourism, exports and investment from the beginning of the Irish Free State in 1922. However, the centrality of James Joyce’s work, Ulysses, to the national project produced other scholarship on advertising albeit in a literary-historical context. Joyce delineated the occupation of the principal character “Leopold Bloom” to be selling advertising space in national and local newspapers. Thus, included within the extensive Joycean corpus is N. Tomkinson’s 1965 article “Bloom’s job” and M. Osteen’s 1993 article, “Seeking renewal: Bloom, advertising and the domestic economy”, both published in the James Joyce Quarterly.

The development of the advertising industry and profession has merited just two full length historical studies. In 1986, Hugh Oram published The Advertising Book: The History of Advertising in Ireland and in 2001 Colum Kenny published Irish Patriot Publisher and Advertising Agent: Kevin J. Kenny (1881-1954). But this limited scholarship should not imply the absence of a vibrant, growing industry and profession which provides part of the context to the articles in this collection.

Advertisements appeared in Irish newspapers beginning in the seventeenth century (Oram, 1986). Two centuries later, much of the advertising activity was discreet with signs outside shops and at railway stations but advertisements, usually sold by advertising agents, proliferated in newspapers as in the USA and Britain (Cullen, 1989). Newspaper advertisements were often poorly laid out and Irish manufacturers were slow to use publicity – many regarded it as a vulgar intrusion (O’Boyle, 2011). Yet, Ireland was “suffused” with advertising particularly after 1853 when the Dublin International Exhibition was held and the British government ended the duty on press advertisements. After this, agencies, free sheets, commissioning agents, street advertising on billboards, trams, buses, trains expanded and advertising was seen as a “panacea for all financial ills” or in the words of one contributor to the Irish Weekly Advertiser, “Advertise, Advertise, Advertise.” The first advertising agency, Johnston’s Newspaper and Advertising Office at Eden Quay in Dublin was established in 1819 by Captain Alexander Johnston followed by agencies in Dublin, Belfast, Cork and Limerick. One of the most successful agencies was Wilson Hartnell founded in 1869 in Dublin (Strachan and Nally, 2012, pp. 19-25).

Of the early advertising pioneers, Henry Crawford Hartnell, Charles Eason of Eason and Sons founded in 1886 and J.H. Parker who founded his firm in 1888, were in constant contact with the industry in London (Strachan and Nally, 2012). During the following decades, although some Irish manufacturing concerns were slow to adapt to new ways of selling their products and Tom Grehan, advertising manager in the Irish Independent, indicated that “the advertising agency was looked upon as an evil”, the community of advertising agents in Dublin was a “rapidly expanding body of business builders”. James Joyce’s Ulysses set in 1904 includes references to advertisements and is infused by “commodity culture” (Kenny, 2011b, p. 27; Strachan and Nally, 2012, p. 27; Kenny, 2011a, p. 8). Seven years later, salesmen in Ireland organised themselves into the Incorporated Sales Managers’ Association (a branch of the London body) and its motto was “Honest in Telling, Bold in Selling” (Woods, 2001, p. xvii). The importance of professionalising advertising and sales was recognised in the same year, when Tom Grehan complained about the absence of “training in and study of salesmanship” in the Irish educational system (Kenny, 2011b, p. 18). Few advances were made during the revolutionary period 1912 to 1922, yet, D.J. Coakely, Principal of the Cork Municipal School of Commerce, commented that America had shown how advertising was becoming a profession, “built on psychology and expressed in art” (Irish Times, 1922). In 1929 the first course in advertising was offered in Ireland at the Rathmines Technical Institute in Dublin. It aimed to “increase the efficiency of the younger generation in advertising” and both men and women could attend (Oram, 1986, p. 62; Irish Independent, 1932). Potential sales managers could obtain from London the Incorporated Sales Managers’ Association London diploma course of study until 1950 when the examinations were held in the Rathmines Technical Institute (Woods, 2001).

In Ireland, as in the USA and Britain, developments in communications and transportation expanded opportunities for advertisements and retail, but in Ireland politics was an important factor also. War and civil war between 1912 and 1923 disrupted economic life. However, the onset of stable government led by the Cumann na nGaedheal party from 1922 to 1932, provided a stimulus to Irish manufacturing as did the 16-year tenure of Fianna Fáil from 1932 to 1948. The latter favoured a policy of self-sufficiency and economic nationalism centring on protectionism, and required that British firms which sold directly into Ireland had to establish subsidiary factories and offices in Ireland. Local advertising became important and provided a fillip to the Irish industry. By 1932 there were 31 Irish-owned advertising agencies of which McConnell’s and Janus had London offices. In addition there were two in Cork city, one in Tralee, County Kerry, one in Drogheda, County Louth and two in Belfast in Northern Ireland (Thom’s, 1932). Such was the volume of advertising business in the 1930s that Middle Abbey Street in Dublin became know as the “Madison Avenue” of Irish advertising (Oram, 1986, pp. 21-4). In addition to agencies, firms began to employ in-house advertising specialists.

After world war two, shortages of dollars for imports and the European Recovery Programme (ERP) also known as the Marshall Plan, promoted increased emphasis on Irish exports particularly to the dollar countries, and improvements in advertising and marketing techniques. These economic realities and the declaration of the Irish republic and departure from the British Commonwealth in 1949 led Irish-based sales managers to establish an Irish branch of the Sales’ Managers’ Association. At its first open meeting in 1949, Bill Chesson delivered a paper on the economic purpose of advertising (Woods, 2001). The first major advertising conference was held in Ireland in 1952. The Irish-American Sales Conference was supported by the Marshall Plan Technical Assistance Programme. There were sessions on advertising and the American mantra, that selling had become a “science”, was set. Four years later the Irish branch of Incorporated Sales Managers’ Association (ISMA) discussed “American Sales Methods – Irish adaptation?” (Whelan, 2000; Woods, 2001). However, despite the evidence of the industry’s openness to new ideas and collaboration, the advertisement sector developed within a protected domestic market where clients maintained conservative business practices. Unsurprisingly, therefore, in 1958 when W.P. O’ Donoghue presented advertising agencies’ views to the Irish Television Commission, he was concerned that foreign companies would be allowed to advertise in the new television station and threaten the sector. The insulation provided by a protectionist economy had engendered fears of competition (Kenny, 2011b; Savage, 1996). Yet many advertisers knew of the vast potential which the new medium had presented their counterparts elsewhere. The potential and effectiveness of television advertising was also discussed by the ISMA in 1957 who were most concerned that salesmen be fully prepared for the new medium – Telefis Éireann, launched in December 1961. ISMA also responded to increasing political emphasis on encouraging an export-led economy and the openings offered by the “Common Market” (European Economic Community), by evolving into the Irish Institute of Marketing and Sales Management in 1962 (Woods, 2001).

The second context for a study on the history of marketing in Ireland arose during a conference held in the University of Limerick, Ireland in May 2008 on the theme of “Inventing and reinventing the Irish woman: from the modern to the post-modern period”. As the conference unfolded it became clear that there was little research and fewer publications on the interlinked themes of marketing, advertising and consumption history in Ireland. The conference papers which were delivered by historians, visual historians and design historians, combined with the responses to the call for papers for this volume, revealed the potential for a cohesive body of scholarship on the history of marketing and advertising in Ireland which now finds fruition in this volume.

The call for papers spanned the period from the early modern to modern periods and focused on the history of consumption, the development of consumer identities – the role of gender, age, politics – the history of marketing, the marketing of Ireland in an international historical context, historical influences of international marketing and advertising strategies on the Irish advertising industry, the role of advertising in Irish commerce, the evolution of the advertising industry in Ireland and the role of the media. Each of the following articles, based on primary resource research, deals with these issues and provides new and significant information to elucidate our understanding of marketing and advertising in Ireland. Moreover, the articles reveal new sources, new perspectives on existing sources and signal new areas of research. Among these is the use of material culture specifically the use of the female body in historical marketing and that the Irish economy was more open to international influences than hitherto understood.

Against a background of the British predominance in Irish politics, economy, culture and society, Lauren Clark deals with Irish childhood and consumer culture in the late Victorian period. She illustrates how the marketing of Irish children’s literature and the child in general, in advertising was a major business for British and Irish publishers. Within the similar pre-independence timeframe, John Paul O’Connor’s article will be of interest to readers concerned with gender and advertising and particularly the imprecise distinctions between consumer advertising and political propaganda in relation to views of the nation. The article critiques the Irish female stereotype used by Irish nationalist and British unionist propaganda in the marketing of toiletries. It also contributes to our understanding of historical research in marketing by illustrating the cultural impact of gender and class profiling in marketing and political discourse.

Williams moves the discussion toward brand identity in the period 1900 to 1939 by which time independence had been achieved but the Irish economy remained inter-linked to the British and increasingly protectionism predominated. Using Irish printed ephemera and marketing material, Williams explores how the biscuit company, Jacob’s, adopted British advertising and marketing techniques for both Irish and international consumers. By detailing the developing, naming, labelling and marketing of biscuits, Williams also provides another lens through which to view political, economic and social change and connections in the inter-war period. The article also analyses Jacob’s advertising strategies in the context of international discourses of leisure and colonialism.

The arrival of American-style chain-store retailing in the form of Woolworth’s company, to Ireland in 1914 is dealt with by Barbara Walsh. The article examines how an international retail chain store, particularly a variety store, and its marketing strategies affected shopping habits in twentieth century Ireland. Not only is it sited within an international context but it provides an invaluable comparative study of retailing, marketing and consumption between the two parts of Ireland. Woolworth’s Irish stores responded to changing tastes and needs of consumers throughout the island, north and south and urban and rural. For almost one hundred years, Woolworth’s set the standards for customer-driven marketing policies.

The evolution of the advertising industry and marketing strategies are the focus of the next three articles. Mary McCarthy’s historical case-study focuses on a major national newspaper, The Freeman’s Journal, in the period 1763 to 1924. It illustrates the eighteenth and nineteenth century origins of innovations and techniques in newspaper advertising. It also documents the development of consumerism in Ireland with a focus on health products, retail goods and how the shipping industry, vital for an emigrant society, advertised itself. Moreover it traces the evolution from a blatant “buy this” approach towards a more complex brand awareness strategy. The linking of consumerism and political propaganda, a focus in O’Connor’s article, is evident here also.

Another case study approach is adopted by Colum Kenny who discusses the provenance of an article which was published in 1910 under the auspices of the National Council of Sinn Fein. The article provides a sophisticated analysis of international advertising trends and their use within an Irish context and thereby, refutes the notion that the Irish advertising industry and market was undeveloped and simplistic at the beginning of the twentieth century.

The theme of external influences on the Irish advertising industry and consumerism is continued by Bernadette Whelan. She argues that the Irish female consumer in particular was a target of the expanding commodity culture, much of which emanated from the USA in 1900. Spanning the period from pre-independence to post-independence it argues that American advertising techniques, strategies and messages became increasingly prevalent and infiltrated Irish society, leading to concerns about the Americanization of the Irish woman.

This edition has provided a welcomed opportunity to reveal the richness of the history of Irish advertising and marketing. It shows how international factors along with internal factors effected change and the Irish economy and society were more cosmopolitan than hitherto believed. Advertising and marketing techniques evolved into industries and professions as elsewhere, the value of advertising came to be recognised as central to business practice and the Irish consumer came to imbibe the values of capitalist, developed economies. The transition from empire to independence was a long road for Irish nationalists and not achieved until 1922. However, the path to a consumer-driven, export-led economy took even longer until the late 1960s. The advertising and marketing professions were at the centre of that evolution.


The author acknowledges Dr John Logan, Department of History, University of Limerick, Limerick, Ireland.

Dr Bernadette Whelan

Guest Editor


Cronin, M. (2011) “‘Funereal black trucks advertising Guinness’: the St Patrick’s Day Industrial Pageant”, in King, L. and Sisson, E. (Eds), Ireland, Design and Visual Culture: Negotiating Modernity, 1922-1992, Cork University Press, Cork, pp. 151–167

Cullen, L. (1989), Eason and Son. A History, Eason and Son, Dublin

Fanning, J. (2011), “Branding and begorrah: the importance of Ireland’s nation brand image”, Irish Marketing Review, Vol. 21 No. 1&2, pp. 23–31

Irish Independent (1932), 10 October

Irish Times (1922), 13 January

Kenny, C. (2011a), Irish Patriot, Publisher and Advertising Agent: Kevin J. Kenny (1881-1954), Ox Pictures, Dublin

Kenny, C. (2011b), “Not so quaint: early Irish reflections on advertising”, Irish Marketing Review, Vol. 21 No. 1&2, pp. 12–22

King, L. (2011), “(De)constructing the tourist gaze: Dutch influences and Aer Lingus tourism posters, 1950-1960”, in King, L. and Sisson, E. Eds), Ireland, Design and Visual Culture: Negotiating Modernity, 1922-1992, Cork University Press, Cork, pp. 167–191

Moran, A. (2011), “Tradition in the service of modernity: Kilkenny design workshops and selling Irish design at American department store promotions, 1967-1976”, in King, L. and Sisson, E. (Eds), Ireland, Design and Visual Culture: Negotiating Modernity, 1922-1992, Cork University Press, Cork, pp. 191–211

O’Boyle, N. (2011), New Vocabularies, Old Ideas: Culture, Irishness and the Advertising Industry, Peter Lang, Berne

Ó hÓgartaigh, C. and Ó hÓgartaigh, M. (2010), Business Archival Sources for the Local Historian, Four Courts Press, Dublin

Oram, H. (1986), The Advertising Book: The History of Advertising in Ireland, MO Books, Dublin

Savage, R.T. (1996), Irish Television. The Political and Social Origins, Cork University Press, Cork

Strachan, J. and Nally, C. (2012), Advertising, Literature and Print Culture in Ireland, 1891-1922, Palgrave/MacMillan, Basingstoke

Swan, C. (2011), “Vanishing borders: the representation of political partition in the Free State 1922-1949”, in King, L. and Sisson, E. (Eds), Ireland, Design and Visual Culture: Negotiating Modernity, 1922-1992, Cork University Press, Cork, pp. 133–151

Thom’s (1932), Thom’s Commercial and Street Directory, Alexander Thom and Co., Dublin, p. 2146, 2162, 2168, 2447

Whelan, B. (2000), Ireland and the Marshall Plan, 1947-57, Four Courts Press, Dublin

Woods, H.V. (2001), Marketing at the Millennium: A Historical Record of the People, Organisations and Events That Shaped the Marketing Profession in Ireland, 1947-2000, Blackhall, Dublin

About the Guest Editor

Dr Bernadette Whelan is a Professor and Head of Department in the Department of History, University of Limerick, Limerick, Ireland. She has published widely on US-Irish diplomatic relations. Her most recent work (2011) is, American Government in Ireland, 1790-1914, Manchester University Press, Manchester, UK. She is co-author with Professor Gerardine Meaney and Professor Mary O’Dowd of Reading the Irish Woman: Studies in Cultural Encounters and Exchange, 1714-1960 published in 2013 by Liverpool University Press, Liverpool, UK. Dr Bernadette Whelan can be contacted at:

Related articles