Historical Advertising Study: The Clock

People have measured time for as long as history has been documented.  Though in the very beginning all time was relative, as time progressed, so did the way people measured it.  Eventually, the clock was invented.  Throughout the twentieth century, time became more of a crucial aspect of life that people wanted to measure.  Because of this, advertisements for different types clocks began to appear more frequently.  Clock companies made different types of advertisements to try to sell their products effectively.  To do this, the companies had to change with the times.  From 1911 to 1946, the methods that clock companies used to sell clocks changed dramatically, going from simplistic advertisements to more detailed and targeted ones.

An advertisement from 1911 features a drawing of a clock, called “Big Ben”, that takes up half of the page.  Elegant, detailed, and easy to read, the clock has a prominent position on the page, stressing the importance of its appearance and effectiveness.  In addition, dividing the space between two things, a drawing and two small paragraphs, allows a simplistic and straightforward approach to selling the object.  The advertisement is in all black and white.  This lack of color allows the audience to focus on just the words and the drawing, as opposed to any colors or details that could distract from the advertisement’s main purpose of selling the clock.  At the bottom of the page, two paragraphs begin with the slogan “Leave your call with Big Ben…”  As the paragraphs continue, they consistently refer to Big Ben as a person who will help his owner keep track of time.  The personification of Big Ben, which also appears in the object’s name itself, gives the audience a sense of comfort, as though each owner can depend on a reliable person not only to remind them to do something, but also to do so “gently”.  Even in the description of the clock, the advertisement refers to Big Ben as a person, leaving the audience feeling as though this clock is more than just an object.

An advertisement from 1919 promotes the Tiffany Never-Wind Clock.  A drawing on the left of the page shows an elegant, soft, classic clock that would appeal to many home-owners.  Underneath the drawing, the slogan “You Never Wind a Never-Wind” is written in bold font.  Next to the drawing is a detailed description of the clock, which explains how the never-wind clock is much easier to use than normal clocks.  In large letters, the clock is described as “a beautiful thing made of gold and glass”.  Underneath it, the first paragraph describes the clock’s characteristics and how easy it is to use, while the second paragraph gives a physical description of the clock.  The advertisement refers to the clock as “a beautiful ornament” and “gem”, which “cannot fail to please the most fastidious taste”.  In addition, on the very top left corner, the word “Free” in bold and capital letters attracts the audience’s attention.  The advertisement says that this clock normally costs $20.00, which is the equivalent to about $282.00 in 2014.  At such a high price, the indication that the clock could be free would be very attractive to consumers.  This advertisement plays on the combination of easy-to-use and visually appealing aspects of the clock, as it explains multiple times how this clock, while beautiful, effectively tells time without the owner doing anything.

General Electric’s 1947 advertisement promotes its Clock-Radio.  Though a different product than the other two clocks, as it functions as a radio as well, its main purpose is the same.  The advertisement features three pictures of the clock, a smiling young woman, and the title “ ‘Wake-up-to-music’ Clock-Radio”, which all take up the majority of the space on the page.  The picture of the woman, who is smiling and holding her arms up as if stretching, implies that the clock radio makes her wake up happy and will do the same to the consumer.  Underneath her, three different colored versions of the clock show in different settings.  The four pictures, along with some musical notes and the words “Rise & Shine”, give the audience many visually appealing things to look at, which could lead them to spend time looking at the advertisement in more detail.  Next to the pictures is a small paragraph that begins with the phrase “Wakes You Up Smiling — Automatically Turns on Favorite Programs — Anytime”.    Underneath, the paragraphs describe the multiple types of uses that the clock-radio has, such as waking the owner up as “gently as a falling leaf” and recording the owner’s favorite program.  According to this advertisement, the General Electric Clock-Radio will make the owners “wake up smiling”, just like the woman on the top of the page, and can appeal to many types of people because of the multiple color options.

Throughout the thirty years during which these advertisements were used, the clock companies’ methods changed in order to fit what consumers wanted.  For example, the advertisement for Big Ben is simplistic, as in the early 1900s people needed clocks primarily to tell time.  Eight years later when Tiffany’s Never-Wind clock was sold, consumers wanted more visually appealing clocks that were easy to use.  In 1947, almost thirty years later, General Electric’s Clock Radio targeted yet another audience, who wanted to get more out of a clock than just the time.  All three of these clocks seem to be intended to sell to middle or upper class consumers, although each has a more specific audience that it targets, as well. Big Ben is fairly simple, therefore targeting a broad audience.  Tiffany’s Never-Wind clock is targeted specifically to an upper-class consumer, as the original price is very high and the advertisement states that it would be good for an office or home, implying that the consumer would have a lot of money.  The Clock-Radio is aimed more towards women who stay at home, as the advertisement shows a happy woman and many colorful pictures that women would be attracted to.  The clock companies wanted to sell their products effectively, and to do so they play on the wants and needs of their consumers.

Since these advertisements were shown, many different types of clocks have been produced in order to continue to follow the advancement of time measurement.  Though some of the same methods are used today, such as the personification of objects, others, such as using a picture of a woman who stays at home all day, would not work because the society’s values have changed over time.  What is important in all advertising is that companies advertise their products in a way that forms a connection between the object and the consumer, and to do that they must play on the values of that time period.


“Big Ben” Advertisement. Chicago Daily Tribune. 14 May 1911. K3. ProQuest Historical Newspapers. Web. 21 Nov. 2014.

Buffalo Specialty Co. “Tiffany Never-Wind Clock”. Advertisement. 1919. Duke University Libraries. Web. 21 Nov. 2014.

General Electric Company. “GE Clock Radios”.  Advertisement.  Life Magazine. 1947. Duke University Libraries. Web. 21 Nov. 2014.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s