Print advertising offers an interesting view into the Indian colonial economy with regard to the “emerging public sphere, fast expanding production of print and the advancement of reprographic and reproductive print technology”. Speaking at the sixth annual Prof CVS Sarma Memorial lecture, on 13th August, Prof A R Venkatachalapathy of the Madras Institute of Development Studies elaborated on the history of advertising in colonial Tamil Nadu. The cultural and social historian discussed his findings based on his consultations of the Tamil print culture, printed materials and archives.

The Lecture is an annual feature organized by the Department of Communication, University of Hyderabad, in memory of Prof C V S Sarma, one of the founding members of the department.

cvsGoing back to the dawn of advertising in India in the late 19th century, Dr. Venkatachalapathy said that the earliest terminology used for advertisements was “vilambaram” meaning a “notice, a publication or a proclamation”. Among the earliest collectibles, these leaflets and pamphlets supplemented the town criers in the act of announcing the coming of drama companies to the villages in South India, he explained.

Talking about the advertising of products in India, the speaker pointed to how the advertisements began to be influenced by the “cycles of import” and how retail market, which in major cities largely catered to a European clientele, began to rise in South India. This was also the time around when the Value Payable Post or VPP came into extensive usage for the selling of goods, and VPP businessman emerged with product catalogues, he said. 

As Dr. Venkatachalapathy observed that advertising till the 1930s had a strong emphasis on ‘words’,with little or no pictorial content. Later however, “contraceptive capitalism”, music boom and talkies boom changed the way the advertising industry functioned in South India. Though the circulation of magazines and periodicals were limited, advertisements had already gained their place in print media. 

1940s, the speaker said, was also the time when the advertising industry was slowly graduating from line and half tone blocks to colour blocks. As more publications and more products came up, the advertisements became more and of better quality. Harking back to the iconic advertisements of the mid 1900s, such as HMV, Dalda and Lux, Venkatachalapathy showed how advancements in printing technology influenced the nature of advertising design as well. 

“Advertisements which till then had their separate spaces now began to be clubbed with news. Films and consumer products were married giving rise to celebrity endorsements,” he said. “By the time of independence, advertisements had come of age, but the industry was still small. However, what occurred post-independence can be looked at as the ‘Indianising of Advertising’,” Dr. Venkatachalapathy remarked. Concluding the talk, he urged that ‘Advertising: The Magic System’ as seen by Raymond Williams should be further probed into with bigger and better questions and across regional boundaries. 

The lecture was attended by the Dr. CVS Sarma’a family. Prof. Ramakrishna Ramaswamy, Vice Chancellor, UoH, Prof. Ananthakrishnan, Dean, SN School, Dr. Usha Raman, Head, Department of Communication and other faculty members were also present.

by Nalme Nachiyar for UoH Herald