In the early nineteenth century, the American commercial marketplace was a chaotic, unregulated environment in which knock-offs and outright frauds thrived. Appearances could be deceiving, and entrepreneurs often relied on their personal reputations to close deals and make sales. Rapid industrialization and expanding trade routes opened new markets with enormous potential, but how could distant merchants convince potential customers, whom they had never met, that they could be trusted? Through wide-ranging visual and textual evidence, including a robust selection of early advertisements, Branding Trust tells the story of how advertising evolved to meet these challenges, tracing the themes of character and class as they intertwined with and influenced graphic design, trademark law, and ideas about ethical business practice in the United States.
As early as the 1830s, printers, advertising agents, and manufacturers collaborated to devise new ways to advertise goods. They used eye-catching designs and fonts to grab viewers’ attention and wove together meaningful images and prose to gain the public’s trust. At the same time, manufacturers took legal steps to safeguard their intellectual property, formulating new ways to protect their brands by taking legal action against counterfeits and frauds. By the end of the nineteenth century, these advertising and legal strategies came together to form the primary components of modern branding: demonstrating character, protecting goodwill, entertaining viewers to build rapport, and deploying the latest graphic innovations in print. Trademarks became the symbols that embodied these ideas—in print, in the law, and to the public. Branding Trust thus identifies and explains the visual rhetoric of trust and legitimacy that has come to reign over American capitalism. Though the 1920s has often been held up as the birth of modern advertising, Jennifer M. Black argues that advertising professionals had in fact learned how to navigate public relations over the previous century by adapting the language, imagery, and ideas of the American middle class.
Jennifer M. Black is Associate Professor of History and Government at Misericordia University.
"Why would anyone trust an advertisement? Why, especially, in the long nineteenth century when novel products and media entered rapidly growing markets from unfamiliar sources? Jennifer M. Black probes these and other questions in Branding Trust, the most significant study of American advertising history in a generation. Masterful insights follow from her immense and innovative research to explain how pioneers in print advertising designed imagery to convey their trustworthiness and legitimacy. Through her rare appreciation for the interplay of evolving media, markets, courts, and diverse cultures, Black explains and generously illustrates the history of advertising’s visual rhetoric."
~Pamela Walker Laird, author of Advertising Progress: American Business and the Rise of Consumer Marketing
"Jennifer Black recasts our understanding of how American capitalism came to rest so powerfully on corporate brands. That process involved a century of experimentation by manufacturers, merchants, advertising firms, and publishers, all of whom wrestled with the moral economy of competition, the legal boundaries of fraud, and the underpinnings of consumer trust amid industrialization. The establishment of reputations for quality, Black shows, was bound up as much with debates over gender roles and racial hierarchies as it was with technological advances, inventiveness in graphic design, and efforts to track consumer response to ad campaigns."
~Edward J. Balleisen, author of Fraud: An American History from Barnum to Madoff