Selling Dreams - Early advertising in Singapore
By the 17th century, many European towns and cities had regularly printed publications that resembled modern newspapers. For centuries, newspapers were the predominant medium for advertising and generated the majority of their revenues from advertising. Likewise, in Singapore, newspapers and printed publications were the most prevalent advertising media from the early 19th century to the 1960s. The plethora of print media published in various languages during this period contains extremely rich advertising materials, a selection of which is featured in this exhibition.
Singapore can also boast of an illustrious advertising history. Advertising agents – specialists who sold advertising space for newspapers and created advertisements for clients – probably emerged in Singapore around the 1910s. The 1920s economic boom fostered a thriving and cosmopolitan advertising industry. Before the Second World War, there were at least 20 advertising firms in Singapore and Malaya, some of which were full-fledged agencies with branch offices in other Asian cities and associated with agencies in London and New York. A sizeable pool of commercial artists worked in the industry, creating artworks that gave the ads a flavour of the era. Among the leading pre-war agencies, Warin Publicity Services stood out thanks to its high media exposure, offering us fascinating insights into the colourful world of early Singapore advertising.
The Japanese Occupation put an abrupt end to the flourishing scene, but many practitioners managed to resume business after the war. In the 1950s and 1960s, Singapore advertising entered a new era as international advertising firms expanded their empires into Southeast Asia and leveraged key local agencies as partners.