Sean Nixon from the Department of Sociology, University of Essex
Date: Thursday 18th March 2010.
At 16:00 in Room 6.345 (Department of Sociology).
In his work with Meadel & Rabeharisoa on the ‘Economy of Qualities’, Michel Callon gave prominence to a group of commercial practitioners he called ‘professionals of qualification’ and the role they played in shaping the relationship between buyers and sellers. ‘Professionals of qualification’ included all those market professionals like designers, market researchers and advertising practitioners who worked both to establish the character and qualities of goods so that they could circulate and be exchanged and who acted to bring together the worlds of consumers and producers. Callon, Meadel & Rabeharisoa’s argument is suggestive for thinking about the role played by market professionals in the circulation of goods and services. Taking the example of one of their ‘professionals of qualification’, advertising agents, I want to ask a fundamentally historical question of their conceptualisation: how did these particular practitioners and their agencies, as specific kinds of personae and organisations, come to establish authority over the world of goods at the expense of other groups who might have filled this role; groups like advertising production companies, journalists or in-house marketing departments of manufacturing companies?
The paper explores this question by turning to the 1950s and 60s and to the introduction of television advertising in Britain. TV advertising posed a challenge to the organisational form and practices of the service advertising agency established in the inter-war years. How did advertising agencies, geared to the worlds of advertising dominated by the press and posters, adapt to TV and shift from being agents of the press to the makers of commercials? In addressing this question, I suggest that we need to understand not just the internal reorganisation of agencies that took place from the mid-1950s, but the relations between advertising agencies, their trade body and media owners. In particular it was the successful transfer of the commission system to the new medium of television through the negotiations led by the industry trade body, the IPA, with the ITV contractors and their representatives that helped to secure the position of service advertising agencies as the preeminent supplier of advertising services. It is these negotiations that the paper focuses on.
CRESI seminars are open to all staff, students and the public and are followed by nibbles and wine in the Sociology Common Room.