Advertising Career Profile

Updated June 26, 2020 | Infoplease Staff

Courses, Careers, and More

Is advertising right for me?

In describing a busy nightclub, New York Yankees catcher Yogi Berra once said, "No one goes there anymore. It's too crowded." Advertising students understand this idea. They know what is in, or hip, or what everybody is doing. But ad students also know, or want to know, what is coming up next. They live on the edge of tomorrow. In marketing , we call them early adopters . They are the first to follow a new musical group, to wear a daring new fashion or to master a new videogame; they pick up the latest slang well before they hear it on radio, and it has become ancient history by the time they hear it on television. They shop differently, interact with their friends more intensely, push to the front of the line with more determination and try to charm their teachers into giving them a better grade with just a little more guile than the average student.

Advertising professors admire their students for their instincts and their social skills. But they know it takes a lot more than "a shoeshine and a smile," to make it in the cutthroat business of advertising. In advertising classes, you will gain a special kind of knowledge that will help you succeed not only in business, but also in many other fields such as government, the law and even the military. You will learn strategic thinking. After all, advertising people have to convince other people to try something new, and most people do not like change. Like a chess-player, you need to think several steps ahead ---maybe, even several years ahead--- of everybody else.

In advertising classes, we transform that ambition to think ahead of the rest into both a science and an art. The result is often magical. Remember the ads? Those ads worked because the creators stopped selling milk as refreshing or healthy or even as a beverage as tradition demanded. Instead they portrayed milk as the only non-sweet drink to have with cereal, or chocolate cake or a peanut butter sandwich. Now everybody and her sister are using some derivation of that brilliant campaign. But the ones had to become experts in the dairy business, in public knowledge and opinion, and most especially, in human behavior. Then they had to write and design ads that were so true to life that we instantly empathized with the situation.

Advertising is the right major for you if you have a psychologist's desire to root around in habit and humor and a thousand other mental states; if you have a sociologist's curiosity about how people influence each other; a business person's need to understand how shoppers, companies and industries fit together; an artist's yen to portray our everyday lives as something strange or beautiful; and a copywriter's instinct to describe our lives as something strange and beautiful.

Advertising pays well, enthusiastically welcomes talented new job seekers, offers opportunities in the smallest town and in the largest cities around the globe and is at the vanguard (naturally) of the exploration and domestication of cyberspace. It is the right major for those who are interested in business but may not wish to take finance, accounting and other math-oriented courses. Advertising is an essential for those bean counters that major in business and may one day wonder why they are spending so much for a promotion.

What kind of job can I get after college?

As noted above, many people think of the advertising major as a business-lite degree. Admittedly, that is not far from the mark. Most advertising graduates do find their careers in business. Advertising is a subset of the field of marketing, which, along with production and administration, is one of the primary line functions of business. People who engage in marketing are also responsible for the packaging , distribution and pricing of products.

If you are looking ahead: it used to be harder for marketing people to rise to the highest corporate positions. Today, however, marketing and especially branding of the company and its products are considered integral to defining the vision of a corporation. Translation: advertising majors, with the proper years of experience, are finding it much easier to become the head of the company. Of course, in Internet companies, no one has decades of experience, so anyone can rise to the top from anywhere.

So where can you get your first job? You can work for an advertising agency or in the marketing department of any kind of corporation. Corporations hire ad agencies to tell them how to sell their products. It is easier for a company to hire an informed outsider who will tell them why a product is failing than to expect such unvarnished honesty from within the corporation. Many advertising graduates work within corporations. In these jobs, they decide on what art or music is best to complete an ad, they determine who is the real target for an ad or how to coordinate the various aspects of a product brand identity campaign. Retailers, especially fashion retailers, are very likely to hire ad grads.

You can work in the media including the Internet. The media include television , radio , magazines and newspapers . Most of the skills, especially the thinking skills, translate well from advertising to media because the media wants to build an audience for their products. You could work in show business or design magazines or invent radio promotions . You could also work in the non-traditional media like direct marketing, sales promotion and the Internet. In the past decade, these industries have grown much larger than advertising. It has been estimated that $400 billion or so is spent on advertising in traditional media, and twice that number is spent on non-traditional media.

You can find work in many of the communication fields that we do not automatically associate with advertising but which contribute to our culture. For instance the motion picture industry is a $70 billion industry, and you may be surprised to learn videogames are a $140 billion industry. Advertising students have a better than average chance to compete for a spot in these industries. Additionally, advertising majors often find jobs in the travel and tourism industry as well. Jobs developing theme hotels and theme parks, managing convention facilities and tourism sites seem to suit them. Of course, thousands of former ad majors work in other non-related jobs as well.

Knowledge and Skills

What should an ad major bring to the first day of their first ad class, and what they will learn?

Of all the courses you took in high school and in your first year or so of college, the ones related to language arts and to social studies are most important. That is, you should know grammar and spelling and punctuation, and you should have some curiosity and basic knowledge about how people think and act. You must have basic math skills as well. Would it surprise you to learn that not all ad majors come in with even these basic skills? Amazingly, some of them do quite well. Knowledge of the hard sciences and of trigonometry and calculus are not required. But a physics teacher I know wisely reminds us, "You live in the universe. You probably should know the rules of how it works. That is especially true when it is your turn to fix the photocopier."

Core Skills

Above all else, successful ad people walk in knowing how to tell a story. Although we would never condone such behavior, they are pretty good at gossip and fibbing. They may excel at evading unpleasant tasks, and they may have talked their parents or the police out of punishing them for an infraction. On the positive side, they may have already had something published, they usually tell great jokes, and they may pepper their conversations with profundities and ennobling sentiments, even if some of them came from Dave Matthews or Snoop Doggie Dogg.

By the time you graduate, you will have learned the following:

Critical and strategic thinking. Critical thinkers can analyze a situation and draw conclusions about what they have seen, they know their own personal biases, and they can set them aside to look for truth. They can report this information to others fairly and accurately. That is, their account would match that of other knowledgeable observers. Strategic thinkers are able to plan a new course of action based on the knowledge gained in critical thinking. They can evaluate probable outcomes and move forward. With time and experience, they will learn the most appropriate plan of action for each situation

Business research. Advertising agencies recommend how someone else, usually the client, should spend their money. Smart clients won't part with a penny without good reason. Just as a lawyer must study and become a quick expert about a lot of outside fields, ad majors must learn how to master an incredible volume of information about a client's business before they formulate suggestions. The best way to gather information is through books and studies. In real life, however, many ad people try to gather knowledge from social conversations rather than from their reading. Remember that information gained through conversation is less likely to be accurate.

Organization. Over time, you will learn that clients and teachers prefer work that follows a simple organizational plan. None of us wants to be inundated with random facts. With organization, you will learn to follow instructions. With good organization, you are more likely to meet deadlines and earn early recognition for your ideas.

Visualization and creative writing. Ask the average person to describe an ad person, and that person will probably describe an artist. Most ad people do have a gift for visualizing an ad on paper or on video. Surprisingly, however most artists, photographers, filmmakers, and other artistic folk work as freelancers; they do not work for just one ad agency. While ad agencies hire freelancers to develop the visual product, most copywriters do work directly for an agency. Copywriting is an unusual kind of writing that telegraphs a sales message to a specific audience. As an ad student, you will learn and practice the principles of creative design and copywriting.

Marketing and media infrastructures. There is an entire world beyond our sight that is involved in bringing products from the farm and factory to the store shelves and bringing news and information from the scene to the citizen. Advertising students learn a little bit about how the marketplace functions, and they learn something else of equal value. While business students learn bookkeeping and journalism students learn to gather information and synthesize it into a story, ad majors spend their time learning how the media function. For example, they learn about satellite distribution of radio, the structure of television networks and the growth of Internet usage. By combining these kinds of knowledge, ad majors take a giant step in strategic thinking.

Presentation skills and teamwork. Recent studies of the post-generation X crowd (what you call yourselves?) say they learn best working on real projects rather than listening to college professors lecture to them. So education has changed to meet your learning style. That is good, because in business today, and especially in advertising, people work in groups. Through your class projects and assignments, you will practice team building, cooperation and group brainstorming. Thinking on your feet and speaking extemporaneously is important in business. You will present your ideas to your classmates and to working advertising professionals before you have to do it for real.

Student Perspectives

Get the real story from a recent college grad

To give you a fair impression, we asked recent advertising graduates what they thought of advertising as a major. All four are under 25. is an assistant account executive on a credit card account. He works for a medium-large firm in Chicago. has not found an advertising job. She processes orders for an import/export firm that is located in the Empire State Building. She also designs ads and brochures for a Japanese dentist who has offices in Manhattan. is a media buyer and planner working for a media buying service in Philadelphia. owns his own three-person agency in Atlanta. His little company brought in $160,000 last year.

Why did you choose advertising as your major? : I switched my major to advertising after taking a research course at the journalism school. I had previously been a marketing major in the school of business, but became more interested in the work that ad agencies do to support marketing initiatives. : It was a narrower field than communications. It promised more money than PR. I like looking at ads. I cannot do complicated math and sciences except statistics. I thought the ad making would be fun (without knowing how many all-nighters I would have to pull). : Honestly, because it didn't require math, seemed interesting, more specific than English but still writing intensive. : I originally planned on print journalism, but I found it a little dry. I like coming up with solutions to clients' problems. How did you decide on your minor? : I chose management as a minor (cognate) to help me build a solid business foundation and prepare me for a top job. : Marketing research was something I liked to do and something I wanted to learn more about. I may go for an MBA, and I thought it would be good. : Marketing seemed like a perfect fit, and specializing in women and minorities was of interest to me. : Graphic design . If you decide you want to be an art director , you really don't have a choice. I'm glad I did it, though. Having experience with design helps you to understand how image fits into the picture. How did this major meet with your expectations? : It met with my expectations for the most part. : It was a little different from what I expected, but I learned a lot from it. I am glad that I took it after all. : I liked my major more after I graduated. Loved my minor, I got to take interesting courses that I wouldn't have otherwise had. : I really didn't know what to expect, which worked out kind of nice What disappointed you about this major? : I think too much emphasis was placed on teaching students about the creative aspect of the business. I would have preferred that more emphasis be placed on the strategic thinking that is present in everything an agency (or anyone dealing with advertising) develops. : I could not take some more classes that interested me. : Nothing disappointed me. I do wish that there had been an advanced media class. : Big picture - I love what I do and wouldn't change a thing. No disappointments at all. How did this major prepare you for your present job? : It taught me the dynamics of working in an agency, how to evaluate good creativity, how to work with others, and, most importantly, how to sell my work and myself to others. : I am still looking for a job that fits me to what I want to do, but my legal (immigration) issue has to be taken care of first. : I think ad team prepared me more than anything. I imagine that is what working in a full service agency is like. Taught me to work well in a team, get in under deadline, improve my writing skills, use SRDS- all valuable skills now. How did this major prepare you for your present job? : I work in the field now, so it prepared me pretty well. Also, Ad Team was the closest thing to real world experience that anyone could ask for. What do you wish you had known before you decided to major in advertising? : That clients aren't always nice! : I needed a lot more career counseling. : That the money to start really sucks, so you have to truly love what you are doing. : Can't say there's anything.


Get Connected! Organizations

You've heard it often. In business, who you know matters as much as what you know. That is certainly true in advertising. Clients change agencies with wild abandon. Consequently people change jobs to move ahead in this business. You will find that advertising people must network (join organizations, go to meetings and conferences, and read the trade press) in order to learn which new clients have money to hire new people. These Web sites will introduce you to these organizations. You should get active as soon as possible.

Student organizations and professional organizations

Here is how AAF describes itself: AAF's college-chapter program has 260 affiliated chapters throughout the United States and abroad. The program includes 6,000 undergraduate student members and more than 250 faculty advisers. AAF provides numerous programs to guide its college students through advertising curriculum and job placement. AAF's programs include the following:

  • More than 1,000 internship opportunities

  • Scholarships

  • Career guides

  • Industry mentors

  • Networking with top agency and corporate recruiters

  • AAF's National Student Advertising Competition is the premier college advertising competition. It provides more than 3,000 college students with "real-world" experience by requiring a strategic advertising/marketing/media campaign for a corporate sponsor. Fifteen schools are selected to present their campaigns to a panel of industry executives at the American Advertising Conference.

The Professional AAF:

The American Advertising Federation represents the movers and shakers of the advertising industry - top advertisers, agencies, media companies and suppliers. These prominent companies include Daimler Chrysler, Procter & Gamble, The New York Times, Yahoo!, DDB Worldwide and Leo Burnett - just to name a few. Your involvement and membership in the AAF affords you the opportunity to develop significant business relationships while learning from the best that the advertising world has to offer.

American Association of Advertising Agencies

The AAAA is the organization for larger agencies. They draw so many job-seekers that they do a bit less for students. Here is how they describe themselves: Founded in 1917, the American Association of Advertising Agencies (AAAA) is the national trade association representing the advertising agency business in the United States. Its membership produces approximately 75 percent of the total advertising volume placed by agencies nationwide. Although virtually all of the large, multi-national agencies are members of the AAAA, more than 60 percent of its membership bills less than $10-million per year.

The AAAA is not a club. It is a management-oriented association that offers its members the broadest possible services, expertise and information regarding the advertising agency business.

Academic organizations

University professors and graduate students who do research on the advertising industry and who teach advertising belong to either the American Academy of Advertising or the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication The former also attracts those who teach advertising in business schools. As an undergraduate, you should regard membership or accreditation by the AEJMC as a sign that you are receiving the best level of advertising instruction. The advertising program at San Jose State University is one of two accredited programs in Northern California.

Get Informed! Publications

Advertising is a huge fast-paced industry. The best way to learn about it is to read, read, read. These magazines confine themselves to advertising issues. You should also read the , and on a regular basis. And do not neglect the books in the library on the field. Our favorite is "From Those Wonderful Folks Who Gave You Pearl Harbor," by Jerry Della Femina. It was published by Simon and Schuster in1970.

Magazines and Trade Journals

is the premier national weekly magazine of the industry. It reports on new campaigns, activity between clients and ad agencies, international advertising, multicultural issues, new trends in interactive marketing, sports promotion and hundreds of other issues. Students can get lower cost subscriptions. Ask your advisor for a subscription form.

is actually a group of weekly regional magazines that focus on the advertising activity within a geographic area. It provides the local story in-depth but tends to eschew larger issues.


The is published bimonthly by the Advertising Research Foundation and is sent to individuals in member companies as a part of membership fees. JAR solicits original papers. Reports of findings are favored over theoretical discussion. JAR is intended for practitioners and users of advertising research.

Academic Research

Journal of Advertising

The is published quarterly, and is designed to encourage the discovery and development of (a) valid theory and relevant facts regarding the psychological and philosophical aspects of communications, and (b) the relationship between these and other components of the advertising process. The accepts original manuscripts of a theoretical, empirical, or essay nature.

Journal of Marketing Research

Here is how the American Marketing Association describes the : Research is written for those academics and practitioners of marketing research who need to be in the forefront of the profession, and in possession of the industry's cutting-edge information on research techniques, methods and applications. JMR is a highly respected quarterly publication that deals with the philosophical, conceptual and technical aspects of the marketing research function. JMR is published for the technically oriented professional researcher or academician. The editorial content is peer-reviewed by an expert panel of leading academics. Articles address the concepts, methods and applications of marketing research that present new techniques for solving marketing problems, contribute to marketing knowledge based on the use of experimental, descriptive, or analytical techniques, and review and comment on the developments and concepts in related fields that have bearing on the research industry and its practices.

Overview and Advice

What is advertisting?

To understand advertising, we should examine its history in three ways: we will look (1) at what famous ad people have accomplished; (2) at how the media work. This part will focus on television but you should focus on the growth of major ad agencies, magazines, radio and the Internet on your own. A newer way to study advertising is to look (3) at how great social trends affected average people in our society and to see how average people created these trends. The recent PBS TV specials on the Civil War and on baseball employed this method. Although some point to the use of barkers shouting store names by Babylonian merchants in 3000 BCE and others note that signs were posted outside Roman buildings in the medieval period, advertising is a twentieth century phenomenon with minor antecedents in the 19th century. Prior to 1904, independent agents who found clients for newspapers created advertising. The first of these agents was Volney Palmer who designed the system in the 1840s. But early newspapers had little ability to print pictures, so the ads mostly used a variety of typefaces (called fonts). Throughout the late 1800s, newspaper printing processes improved close to modern standards. By the 1890s, ads were festooned with little pictures.

Albert Lasker opened the first modern ad agency in 1904. His ads made realistic promises to the most likely prospects for products. At the same time, John E. Kennedy (no relation to the former President) introduced a kind of ad copy that offered reasons to buy a product rather than just vague hype. Copywriter Claude Hopkins tested different sales copy to see which appeals worked best. When commercial radio came on the scene in the 1920s, advertising people like Stanley Resor and Raymond Rubicam felt obliged to provide clients with social science research to find prospects and test ad effectiveness. During the Depression, Leo Burnett wrote ads based on the inherent drama involved in the use of the product. These slice of life stories wisely added emotional appeal to advertising's array of techniques.

History and Background


The government permitted television in the late 1940s. TV, as we know, it began in the middle of the century that you were born in. At the end of World War II, in 1945, the Federal Communications Commission lifted a ban on the construction of new TV stations and black and white TV sets. As commercial TV become available in a few cities, the American Association of Advertising Agencies began figuring out how to add moving pictures to radio advertising.

CBS set up a Television Audience Research Institute where ad agencies could use studios to create and pre-test new techniques of commercial video as well as field test ad effectiveness. Among the advertisers who pioneered this medium were Lever Bros.: Bulova Watch Co., Pan American World Airways, Firestone Tire & Rubber, RCA, Gillette Safety Razor, Esso gasolines, R.H. Macy & Co. and Alexander Smith & Sons. By 1948, 933 sponsors bought TV time, a rise of 515% over 1947.

When television became the primary communication medium, adman Leo Burnett would populate the tube with dozens of real and anthropomorphic characters from the Marlboro Man to the Snap Crackle and Pop of Rice Krispies. While Burnett added whimsy, Rosser Reeves said every product needed a unique selling point (USP). The fact that Ivory Soap is so pure that it floats and M&M candies melt in your mouth and not in your hands are USPs.

Long-form copywriter David Ogilvy said every brand needed an image, so he put an eyepatch on a man modeling dress shirts, and he proved his point. In the 1960s, William Bernbach said advertising must stop talking down to customers as though they were fools. His ads for Volkswagen admitted the car was small and funny looking and that Avis was not the biggest car-rental company, so they had to work harder to earn your trust.

In the 1960s, real life intruded upon television's happy world. TV grew up, bringing assassination, the civil rights conflict and Vietnam War into America's living rooms. Skepticism in government broadened into distrust of all institutions including advertising. When the decade began, presidential candidates John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon fought their campaign using TV advertising in primary elections, debates, and rousing political conventions. The 1960s were the time of Dr. Martin Luther King and civil rights. Television responded to the civil rights crusade with programs featuring Black actors and a few integrated television ads. Negative political TV advertising began in 1964 with the "Daisy" spot. By showing an innocent little girl and a nuclear blast, President Lyndon Johnson's suggested his opponent, GOP candidate Barry Goldwater, might start a nuclear war. From then on, political ads grew more personal and nastier in nature. In 1968, the National Association of Broadcasting Authority increased its scrutiny of violence in TV programming and advertising after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. and of U.S. presidential candidate Sen. Robert F. Kennedy. Not surprisingly, TV surpassed newspapers as an information source in the 1960s. The first such poll in 1964 showed 36% of Americans find TV a more reliable source, compared with the 24% who favored print.

In the 1960s, tobacco manufacturers agreed to stop advertising on television after the U.S. Surgeon General issued a report finding smoking a health hazard. Cigarette advertising for Winstons, Marlboros, Luckies and Virginia Slims had been among the most familiar spots on TV.

Color advertising brought new glamour to advertising. Color TV boomed as NBC lead the way and began to use the phrase "The Full Color Network." By the end of 1960, NBC broadcast 96% of its nighttime schedule in color. Each year, about 2.7 million color sets were sold. Advertisers, increasingly leery of showing their black and white commercials on color programs, rushed into using color. In the 1960s, manufacturers produced 11.4 million new color TV sets, up from the 5.7 million receivers made in 1960.

In the 1970s, Watergate hearings dominated television coverage while the medium became highly regulated. The Senate Watergate Hearings became a national obsession. Together ABC, CBS and NBC offered almost 300 hours of rotated coverage, and were estimated to have cost a combined total of $10 million in lost ad revenues and air time. ABC aired the first episode of its 26-hour miniseries "Roots" in 1978. The January 30 installment became the third most-watched TV program in history, earning a 51% rating.

In response to growing concern over TV's effect on children, the NAB and the networks agreed to reduce commercial time in children's weekend fare from 16 minutes an hour to 12 minutes an hour (effective Jan. 1, 1973). Family viewing time was incorporated into the NAB TV code. It was decided that the time before 9 p.m. was supposed to be devoted to all members of the household. This resulted in a marked drop in violence on the air in "family time" during the 1975-76 season. In 1976, a federal court overturned the policy, deeming it a violation of free speech. To strengthen children's programming, the FCC eliminated the mention of products in a program context, and the use of program hosts or cartoon characters as commercial pitchman. The NAB added additional curbs on ads to children, with a new policy limiting non-program material in weekend children's fare to 10 minutes hourly.

Advertising Today

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Chiat/Day modernized Bernbach's creative revolution. They practically reinvented advertising with the "Just Do It" campaign for Nike, the introduction of the Macintosh Computer and the "Have an Eargasm" campaign for Pioneer Stereo. Other notable creative shops that did or are doing great work include Goodby Silverstein, Weiden & Kennedy and Fallon McElligott. Each has been chosen Advertising Agency of the Year by Advertising Age. As Robert Rothenberg described it in "Where the Suckers Moon," these agencies believed "their role was to create intellectually challenging, short form cultural expressions." Recently, John Steel and the Saatchi brothers have created a new system of bringing the client and consumer together in the creative mix. They call it account planning.

In the 1980s, advertising met the challenge of videotape, remote control and cable television. The 1980s saw the first shifts away from broadcast television as videotape recorders and cable television became staples in a majority of American homes. A new network, FOX brought original youth-oriented programming and hours of reruns to television. ESPN, a total sports network, debuted on cable in 1979. It became the largest and most successful basic cable channel, carried by virtually every cable system and reaching more than 57 million households. In 1980, the Cable News Network and MTV: Music Television made their debut. By the end of the decade more than half of U.S. households were wired for cable.

The decade also was known for its blockbuster advertising. During the third quarter of the Super Bowl, Apple Computer introduced the Macintosh computer with a 60-second Orwellian epic commercial called "1984," created by Chiat/Day. The spot, which cost $400,000 to produce and $500,000 to broadcast in its single national airing, launched a new tradition of great ads first airing in the Big Game. Pop music superstar Michael Jackson made two highly publicized Pepsi-Cola commercials. During one shoot, his hair accidentally caught fire. The campaign, by BBDO Worldwide, New York, kicked off big-budget celebrity ads that become prevalent during the decade. Pepsi paid a record $5 million for the rights, another $2 million for the spots. The California Raisin Advisory Board introduced a hit commercial featuring dancing, singing, sneaker-clad raisins via new animation technology called Claymation. It was done by Foote, Cone & Belding's San Francisco office and Claymation creator Will Vinton Nissan began its new age "Rocks and Trees" campaign grabbing attention by never showing the product -- its luxury Infiniti. Instead, the spots featured nature scenes.

Finally, the generation that came of age during the Internet, your generation has yet to write its own story. Sociologists tell us that you are a bit more conservative than previous generations in your dating behavior; that racial and social tolerance is a given for you; but that you may be divided a bit more on class lines between those that are ready for a computerized world and those that have not grown up with these devices. Incidentally, you are the first generation since the 1960s to identify with your age cohort, that is, to think of yourself as being members of a unique generation. So what does all this have to do with advertising?

In every age, at every stage of American history, advertising has in some ways led and in some ways been led by the changing social customs of these generations. Look through old magazines or watch old films and videotapes and you will see how this has come true.

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