Learning from the Source: Print Advertising Across the Centuries

Print Advertising Across the Centuries Student Future Advertisement

Advertisements showcase products and the latest technology while reflecting life and society as we know it, or wish it to be. This project encourages students to use their natural curiosity about the similarities between the past, present, and future to analyze and compare and contrast historical, contemporary, and hypothetical print advertisements of the future.*

To complete this project, students will . . .

  • learn about advertising persuasion techniques.
  • analyze a historical print advertisement from around the turn of the twentieth century and a contemporary advertisement from the early twenty-first century for the same or a similar product.
  • compare and contrast the historical and contemporary advertisements.
  • create an advertisement to be sold in the early twenty-second century for the same or a similar product to the one promoted in the contemporary advertisement.
  • compare and contrast the contemporary advertisement with the hypothetical advertisement of the future.
  • discuss how advertisements change over time and the reasons that might account for the changes.

Upon completing this project, students will be able to . . .

  • analyze historical and contemporary advertisements.
  • understand and discuss advertising persuasion techniques.
  • describe how lifestyles, goods, and services change over time.
  • discuss why advancements in technology lead to improvements in some consumer goods while others remain relatively unchanged.
  • discuss how advancements in media capabilities influence advertising.

This project meets the following Common Core English Language Arts Standards for grades 6-12.

Reading Standards for Informational Text: 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 10

Reading Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies: 1, 2, 4, 6, 8, 9, 10

Writing Standards: 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10

Speaking and Listening Standard: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6


Project preparation: Students will need a good understanding of primary sources and primary source analysis.

Prepare materials for implementation: You will need print or digital copies of the historical print advertisements or access to the Duke University collection, Emergence of Advertising in America and access to newspapers, magazines, or printed ephemera to search for contemporary advertisements. Additionally, you may wish to share information found on the Emergence of Advertising in America collection timeline, which includes selected events in business technology, media, marketing, and advertising from the mid-1850s through 1920.

Be flexible with implementation: If technology access is limited, make copies of the print advertisements.

Allow for sufficient time to implement: Working independently and collaboratively, students will need three 40-minute sessions to complete the project and 60-120 minutes outside of class to create an advertisement of the future and to complete one of the extension activities.


Advertising persuasion techniques

Historical advertisements

A Look Back in Time analysis sheet

A Look at the Present analysis sheet

Comparing Past & Present Venn diagram

A Look to the Future analysis sheet

Comparing Present & Future Venn diagram

Future advertisement rubric

Anywhere the Eye Can See, It’s Likely to See an AdNew York Times January 15, 2007

Print is Dead? Not so Fast.Forbes 6/28/2012


Session 1

  1. Hand out the list of advertising persuasion techniques. Review these techniques with the class. Divide students into pairs or small groups. Ask them to think of several examples for each technique. After, have students share their examples with the class.
  2. Tell students that they will be reviewing advertisements from the past, present, and future. Allow students to select historical advertisements that interest them or assign each student an historical advertisement. [If allowing students to select their  advertisements, you may also wish to have them search the Emergence of Advertising in America on their own.]
  3. Direct students to analyze their selected advertisements, then answer the questions on the A Look Back in Time analysis sheet.

Session 2

  1. Direct students to look through magazines, newspapers, or printed ephemera for contemporary print advertisements promoting the same or  similar products to the ones showcased in their assigned historical advertisements. [This step may be completed at home prior to Session 2.]
  2. Instruct students to study their contemporary advertisements individually, then answer the questions on the A Look at the Present analysis sheet. When they have finished, be sure they also complete the Comparing Past & Present Venn diagram.
  3. Direct students to read the two advertising news articles listed in the materials section and discuss them as a class.
  4. Facilitate further discussion about the following: how lifestyles, goods, and services have changed over time; why advancements in technology lead to improvements in some consumer goods, while others remain relatively unchanged; how advancements in media capabilities influence advertising. [You may choose to have students brainstorm these topics individually or in groups prior to the discussion.]

Homework Assignment After Session 2

Ask students to imagine society in the early twenty-second century. Then have them design advertisements that would appeal to consumers of the future for the same or similar products to the ones promoted in their assigned historical advertisements and the contemporary advertisements that they found. Be sure to have students identify their target audience(s) and direct them to incorporate one or more advertising techniques that would appeal to the audience(s). Encourage students to illustrate improvements that have been included to update the advertised products.

Session 3

  1. Group students in pairs. Ask students to study the hypothetical advertisements of the future created by their partners, then answer the questions on A Look to the Future analysis sheet. When they have finished, be sure they also complete the Comparing Present & Future Venn diagram.
  2. Direct partners to exchange analyses and review them, considering how that information might be used to strengthen their future advertisements.
  3. Have students present their future advertisements by taking on the role of an advertising agency account manager trying to sell the ad to the client (the class).
  4. Revisit the class discussion about how lifestyles, goods, and services might change over time; why advancements in technology might lead to improvements in some consumer goods, while others will likely remain relatively unchanged; and how advancements in media capabilities might influence advertising in the future. After creating their own advertisements, do the students have new thoughts and ideas?
Extension Activities

How Products Improved Lives in the Early Twentieth Century

Ask students to imagine that they are living in the year 1910. Direct each student write a letter to a descendant, explaining how the assigned product has improved life in the early twentieth century.

How Inventions Evolve and Impact Our Lives

In 1897 the U.S. Patent Office had over 21,000 registered patents—licenses for new inventions—and was recording an average of 60 new patents every day. Some inventions helped industry to grow, while others helped improve daily life. Direct students to research inventions from the turn of the twentieth century and describe the impact they had on American lives at the time (be sure to search Chronicling America historical newspaper collection).  Then direct students to describe (written, orally, or visually) how the inventions have evolved over time and how they affect our lives today.

* This project was created in collaboration with master teacher Marla Horwitz.