Story: Advertising

Page 2. Advertising agencies, 1891–1970

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First advertising agents

The advertising profession began in the United States in 1841, when Volney Palmer began buying up advertising space in newspapers at a discounted rate and on-selling it to advertisers. Agents also created the ads.

Block making


In pre-computer days an advertisement would be prepared by an agency up to two weeks before publication. It began with the copywriter typing the words. These were typeset in hot-metal type and printed out. The artist would cut out blocks of type and paste them on the drawing board along with the logos and illustrations. This would go to the block maker, who would etch a zinc plate and mount it on wood. This would then be taken to the newspaper to go through the printing press.


The first advertising agent in New Zealand was Charles Haines, who in 1891 became the Wellington-based agent selling advertising in the Wairarapa Daily. Some months later the Irish-born John Ilott became the Wellington agent for the Auckland Star group, which included the New Zealand Graphic and New Zealand Farmer. Before long he was also selling advertisements in Otago and Canterbury papers. Ilott prepared the copy and the artwork. In 1896 J. Inglis Wright began similar work in Dunedin.


In 1896 the Newspaper Proprietors Association (NPA) was formed, and the association saw the advantages in agents working for all newspapers rather than each paper having separate agents. So from 1907 the NPA began to accredit advertising agencies, and to lay down rules and fees. It was established that an accredited agency would receive a 20% commission on any ad placed, but lose 5% if the agency did not pay the newspaper within 30 days. The agency carried the financial risk. Agents could charge their clients for preparing the copy and the images.

Agencies would work out a marketing plan with a client, book spaces in the media, and then prepare the advertisements. By 1910 Ilott Advertising had Shell, the Bank of New Zealand, Edmonds, Fleming’s Creamoata and Cadbury among its clients. The agency included people like artists and copywriters alongside account executives and media buyers.

Stock images

Fifty years later, in 1960, Ilott Advertising had some 130 personnel, including 22 artists. Along with the writers in the production department, they produced work that had more complex imagery and slogans than earlier efforts. There was much copying of American advertisements, and catalogues of re-useable ‘cuts’, or block illustrations, were widely used. Creativity was not central to the culture, and few accounts changed hands.

The other two pioneer firms, Charles Haines and J. Inglis Wright, were still operating and had been joined as major firms by Goldbergs (later Dobbs, Wiggins, Goldberg), Carlton Carruthers, and Dormer Beck, which was the only Auckland agency.

Short stay, long effect


In the late 1920s the American advertising agency J. Walter Thompson briefly established an office in Wellington to honour their agreement to promote General Motors cars wherever it set up an assembly plant. The young accountant for the agency, Bill McNair, was intrigued by the agency’s consumer research project into the sale of King Oscar sardines. Inspired, McNair went to Sydney to establish a pioneering market research and polling company.


Market research

Following US practice, some agencies began to get involved in market research to assist their campaigns. In the late 1940s Laurie Enting at J. Inglis Wright established the Consumer Research Bureau as a subsidiary of the agency. Ilott Advertising soon followed this initiative.


Legislation laid down rules for advertising, such as the Medical Advertisements Act 1942, which prohibited advertisements claiming to ‘cure’ serious illnesses. The agencies themselves formed the Association of Accredited Advertising Agencies of New Zealand, which tried to ensure that no advertisements included misleading claims, exaggerated statements, attacks on competitors or fake testimonials. This reinforced standards also supported by the NPA.

Political advertising

Although selling goods was by far the most important role for agencies, political parties also sought their services. Ilott Advertising and Charles Haines shared the National Party’s advertising until the late 1960s, while J. Inglis Wright made many Labour Party advertisements. The industry won plaudits for its role in promoting war loans and other wartime propaganda.

International agencies

For a long time the many goods from the UK in New Zealand shops were promoted by British agencies with offices in New Zealand. Correspondingly, in the 1920s Ilott Advertising opened an agency in London to promote New Zealand goods such as Glaxo. However, from the 1950s international firms began to take holdings in local agencies such as Dobbs-Wiggins-McCann-Erickson, and some, such as Ogilvy and Mather, established their own New Zealand agencies.

How to cite this page:

Jock Phillips, 'Advertising - Advertising agencies, 1891–1970', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 15 June 2024)

Story by Jock Phillips, published 11 Mar 2010