Plakat – The Birth of Modern Advertising @ FIFA

Though it was a well made television series, Mad Men does not accurately depict the advertising world. At least not from a European perspective.  Like most things the advertising worlds in Europe and North America differed greatly. A documentary like this one, written and directed by Adolfo Conti (Looters of the Gods), really shows the evolution of the industry, especially in regards to the advertising poster, from a European perspective. Of interest to those who are intrigued by the industry and also lovers of history.

Plakart deads with three pioneers of the advertising poster – Lucian Bernhard, Ludwing Hohlwein and Julius Klinger. All men and all German. At the beginning of the 20th century these three men revolutionized how the advertising industry used the poster. Most agree that this began what we now think of as modern advertising.

At the beginning of the 20th century in Germany the metropolis of Berlin is being born. Its competitor/model is Paris, which had been the center of economics and the arts for a long time. Population was booming and industry was being brought to Berlin.

As for the advertising poster is was moving forward and evolving. Traditional posters like those of French artist Toulouse-Lautrec were no longer able to capture the attention of hurried passersby. For survival it had to change.

In 1901, an 18-year-old Lucian Bernhard arrives in Berlin from Stuttgart. He was soon hired by an advertising firm to work on designing posters. Very quickly he began to make his mark on the industry. In 1903, Bernhard designed a series of revolutionary posters . He developed a visual language for advertising. The objective poster is born. It reduces everything to the product. The aim was to have a long distance effect and memorability.

To produce his posters, lithography was used. They were printed in colour which made things complicated in the past. But with the new printers at the beginning of the 1900s, it became doable. The poster was to become a means of mass communication.

Around the same time 16-year-old Hans Sachs came to Berlin. Within 20 years he would have collected around 12,500 posters. Sachs along with Bernhard founded the Friends of the Poster Society. A dentist by trade, Sachs’ interest showed the effect advertising posters had at the time.

Ludwing Hohlwein, who lived in Munich, as a contemporary and rival of Bernhard. His approach to posters was completely different from Bernhard’s. Initially an architect, Hohlwein entered the world of advertising and was influenced by the British Beggarstaffs brothers. As such, his posters attempted to capture a moment and draw the viewer in like a film.

Finally, in Vienna there was Julius Klinger. Klinger was Jewish. He used a more figurative style. Wanting to follow in the footsteps of Bernhard, Klinger moved to Berlin in 1897 and began to work at the same firm as Bernhard. His style invited viewers to be playful. He focuses more on the brand than the article.

The rivalry between Hohlwein and Bernhard continued. They waged a war for the possession of German car maker, Audi. The power resided with the graphic designer in German firms as they developed everything visual from the packaging to posters to branding and graphics for products to be sold. Bernhard designed the logo for Bosch. It remains their logo today.

After World War I and the German defeat, Klinger returned to Vienna, the 1920s was the pinnacle for Hohlwein and in 1923 Bernhard moved to New York to never return to Europe again. The U.S. was a humbling experience for Bernhard as he was used to being the focus of the advertising world. Things worked differently in American advertising agencies. They were run by copy writers and not graphic designers. Bernhard constantly had to struggle to impose his style. In 1928, Klinger came to the United States. He returned to Vienna after a couple of months. It did not go well and he was deeply disappointed.

The 30s in Germany saw the rise of the Nazis and their leader Hitler. Hitler’s success relied upon propaganda. Hohlwein, a patriot, joined the Nazi Party because he thought it showed his love of country. He began to produce posters for them. Producing around 40 in total.

When World War II started things became very difficult for Klinger. At this time his work was stripped down to the essentials. He produced his last poster in 1938 for a food company. He could no longer work because he was Jewish. Was forced to move into a ghetto and had most of his rights stripped. In 1942, Klinger and his wife were arrested and sent to a camp in Belarus. They died there.

After the war in 1946, Hohlwein underwent a de-Nazification trial. He was not allowed to work for a couple of years. Died shortly afterwards.

Still in New York, Bernhard mostly painted and had pretty much withdrawn from the advertising world.

In German and English, the documentary holds your attention. Brings in a whole bunch of issues and topics. History, world wars, consumerism, art, Germany, graphic design, and advertising. Show how advertising posters became an important document of society’s culture and viewpoints. Also, shed light on the time’s visual language.

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