The arrival of aspirational sports advertising

Dr Brad Millington, Department for Health

The Hockey Field 3 (VI), 8 November 1906 p47.
The Hockey Field 3 (VI), 8 November 1906 p47.

Dr Brad Millington discovers an early 20th-century example of lifestyle advertising in a women's hockey journal.

These two advertisements from a 1906 issue of the publication The Hockey Field - described as "The Official Organ of the Ladies' Hockey Associations" - tell a story of the changing nature of advertising over time.

The ad on the left for hockey equipment is in many ways different from the ads we're familiar with today. Most of all, it is heavy on text and light on imagery. The ad makes a fairly detailed case for the products in question. We learn, for example, that both the 'celebrated' hockey sticks and the 'international' boots emerged from an experimental design phase. We learn that they're both recommended by experts. And we learn what they cost and how to get them. Meanwhile, images of the products are found off to the side. Consider how different this is from most current-day ads. The first decades of the 1900s were still early days for consumer culture. From industry's perspective, advertising was needed to help ensure that consumer goods were actually sold, especially given how rapidly commodities were being made through factory production. For consumers, advertising helped explain why commodities of one kind or another were needed as part of a daily routine. Ads, in other words, had a pedagogical function. By contrast, consumerism is now so ubiquitous that details such as purchasing instructions are often irrelevant. We know what stores will sell Nike trainers, or where to go online to buy them. We trust that Nike will make good shoes, and so it's the image of the shoes (and often the other images the shoes are associated with) that becomes important.

But the ad on the right - whilst similar in some ways with the one on the left - is closer to the ads we're familiar with today. In selling The 'Pirle' Finish, the aim, it seems, is not just to say what the product is and what it can do for you. There's something else going on, especially in this particular passage: "The outdoor girl who loves to cycle, walk, and drive, will never wear anything but a 'PIRLE' costume when she has once donned one." The outdoor girl: this could be you! This is an example of lifestyle marketing. The aim is to tell you who you could be with this one simple purchase. The image is central because it's an image that's for sale. These are interesting ads in many ways. The fact that they both implore The Hockey Field's female readers to take up an active lifestyle just a decade after women were excluded from the first modern Olympic Games is a sign that, like advertising, gender norms were changing too. When it comes to advertising, things have changed indeed. These two ads, placed side-by-side, are helpful in showing how ads have shifted in their form and content. Advertising still instructs us, but its 'lessons' are often about the lifestyle one could have. The outdoor girl lifestyle is an imagined possibility for the consumer to make real.

About this story

The Hockey Field 3 (VI), 8 November 1906 p47.
Published journal