The Line Between Ads and Prose

In Robert Scholes and Clifford Wulfman's Modernism in the Magazines: An Introduction, the authors bring up discussion about how advertisements in the early twentieth century (and late, late nineteenth century) were beginning to influence the organization and content of magazines. Of course, the argument can be made that the reverse is true: advertisements, being a necessity for many magazines to keep costs low, were influenced by the content of magazines themselves. Certainly, little magazines kept their interests literary, as seen in the predominantly literary ads of The Freewoman and The New Freewoman. However, in the case of magazines such as Scribner's--with their larger audience--whole sections were dedicated "to situate and enhance the ads themselves" (Scholes and Wulfman).

This is apparent in the February 1913 edition of Scribner's, in which the entire edition is based around automobiles. In fact, the magazine reads as a not-so-subtle (today, at least, where there are cars aplenty) advertisement to intice readers to buy cars. In Scribner's "Index to Advertisements," it says, "Scribner's was one of the first periodicals in the country to publish the advertisement of an automobile. . . You can hardly fail to be interested in the attractive motor announcments in this number. Scribner's recommends these manufacturers to you" (2). Following this is not only a list of manufacturers, but a promise that mentioning Scribner's to these manufacturers will be beneficial (2). The rest of the magazine includes illustrated images of cars on mountaintops or black and white photographs of vehicles trudging through different environments. In short, it is clear that this magazine has not only embraced advertisements, but has found a way to incorporate these ads rather than to allow them to appear wholly unrelated (and unappealing, perhaps). In fact, Ralph D. Paine's article "Discovering America by Motor" reads as both engaging prose (for readers of John Steinbeck, it feels reminiscent of his later memior Travels with Charlie in Search of America) and a buyer's guide that promises safety and adventure. Ezra Pounds disdain for advertisements in magazines might not have been wholly unfounded, as in Scribner's case, but the fine line between advertisements and prose is an interesting prospect in itself. Only, however, if my endorsement of its study does not read as an ad itself.


I see what you did there. :-)

This is a good application of a concept from Scholes and Wulfman to a periodical issue you haven't read before. Your observation that there is a fine line--or perhaps no line--between advertising and prose, though perhaps you meant fiction or editorial prose. Let's keep this linkage in mind during our conversation today.

Also, your post echos Cooper's very nicely on the insidiousness of advertising culture and ideology.


I started to write on this as well, until I saw that you already had it covered! I found myself confused at first when I was reading Scribners, thinking, "Wait, is this an article or an ad?" It's both! The end of the magazine itself did read as traditional ads, the ones scattered throughout and at the beginning read so seamlessly as articles that I had to frequently remind myself that they really weren't. And, if they were articles and not ads, they were extremely manipulative articles to convince me that I wanted the thing they described. The prosey-ness of it, though, did make me feel like there was more content to the magazine than there actually was. When reading for Dr. Jackson's course, I felt bombarded by the dominance of ads in Time. And, while Scribners certainly had a ton of advertisements, I didn't feel imposed upon or cheated. Perhaps this was due to structure of ad placement, but I think the structure of the language itself also contributed to that.