THE EARLY YEARS OF ADVERTISING IN TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO
1900 – 1940s
Before Advertising Agencies, there were…“advertising agents”.
Franklin’s Year Book of 1917 lists two in Port of Spain: Franklin’s Electric Printery of 12 Abercromby Street, and W. H. Yuille of 77 Queen Street. Miss A. Laurence of 48 High Street, San Fernando was a “newspaper and booking agent”, and there were other agents in all the important towns. They sold advertising space for several newspapers including the Port of Spain and San Fernando Gazettes. They also acted as sales reps for printeries who produced hundreds of magazines and almanacs. The sale of advertising in the CIC Annual covered the entire printing cost for the college.
V S Naipaul observes in “The Middle Passage”: “There was a time when Trinidad had no advertising agencies, and the nearest we got to copy-writing was Limacol’s ‘Freshness of a breeze in a bottle,’ and Mr. Fernandes’: ‘If you don’t drink rum that is your business; if you do drink rum that is our business’.
DAVIES AND CHISLETT LIMITED
Partners Julian Davies and Geoffrey ‘Chizzy’ Chislett opened Trinidad and Tobago’s first advertising agency at the Franklins Printery location in the 1930s. Davies, described as a “one-man creative powerhouse in advertising,” was credited with bringing glamour, style, and creativity to the industry. With Chizzy Chislett mainly handling the business side of the operation, Davies mapped out strategy with clients, sketched the ad layouts and brought to life the ideas that streamed from his fountain pen. The staff numbered over 40 and the agency’s scope covered the Federation and British Guiana.
The ground breaking graffiti campaign “Have a beer instead”, where the product was neither named nor seen, was a Davies’ concept splashed by teams of talented painters to “the four corners of Trinidad”.
Davies’ campaigns had longevity! “Frico for me” has echoed through the years. We recall Bermudez’s “Fresh as a Wink” smiling from billboards. “The Spirit of Trinidad” for Vat 19 rum, designed by Joe Velasco who worked in the agency studio, is today the same dancing girl figure, virtually unchanged. It was Davies’ idea to create a series of ads for Vat 19 with Alf Codallo’s folklore characters. That’s why when we visualise Papa Bois, La Diablesse, and Douens, they look the way Alf painted them.
Having set the standard for new agencies entering the field, Davies and Chislett was acquired by the Interpublic Group of Companies and became McCann Erickson (Trinidad) Limited in 1967.
COLONIAL ADVERTISING LIMITED
Colonial Advertising Limited emerged in the 1940s with offices on Richmond Street. Its founders were Heinrich Lippman and Eric Traub, Jewish refugees from Hitler’s Nazi Germany. Mervyn Telfer, a Colonial sales rep, hawked display ads for the agency’s major client, the phone company, on foot or by bike. He earned 10% commission on every $2 ad space he sold. Mrs Lippman did the books, and would pay weekly wages at exactly 11.59am on a Saturday, and not a second before.
Colonial Advertising later moved to Park Street a and became a fully-fledged agency with a staff of 15, a branch in Barbados, and reach around the Federation.
Lippman, the quintessential entrepreneur, created business opportunities out of his life experiences. Alfred Codallo, who freelanced for Colonial, remembers Lippman going to the movies to improve his English. Seventy cinemas straddled the length and breadth of the country, offering significant advertising possibilities! Lippman soon negotiated contracts with cinema owners, selling advertising time slots to the community. He contracted craftsmen to produce the 3-inch square glass sandwich slides that were the medium at the time. Herr Lippman’s guerilla tactics would eventually confront the big guns of British-owned Pearl and Dean, who controlled the placement of 35 and16 millimetre color film ads for local cinema…and give way.
Colonial dominated outdoor advertising. The firm positioned one hundred and fifty poster frames – approximately 8 by 4 feet, which were the British standard size–all over the country. Posters printed in England were installed by ‘poster hangers’. They were regularly rotated due to either change of advertiser or message. Sturdily-built and strategically placed on roof tops, some of these poster frames have endured to today.
In another pioneering move, Colonial then erected 50 giant billboards, 50 by 20 feet, mainly on Government lands along railway lines which ran parallel to major roadways. These billboards were hand-painted by exceptionally talented artists.
1950s – 60s
Records such as the United States Bureau of Foreign Commerce roster show the local ad industry flourishing over the next decade:
FORMATION OF THE ADVERTISING AGENCIES ASSOCIATION OF
TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO
In 1962 Government launched Trinidad & Tobago Television (ttt), together with Radio Guardian (610 Radio). Prior to that, media was largely controlled by the British Thompson Group, which owned The Guardian and Evening News papers. There were two radio stations: Radio Trinidad and Rediffusion, a wired home service (like paying for cable TV today) accessed via the Red Box in your home, for which you paid $2.50 a month. The famous radio soap, Dr Paul, was broadcast loudly in all homes from 11.15am – 12 noon. Mervyn Telfer, who joined Radio Trinidad in 1956, recalls walking from his house in Hunter Street, to Luis Street some blocks away, without missing a single, gripping word!
The Thompson Group was largely responsible for the recognition of advertising agencies in Trinidad and Tobago, not because the Group wanted it, but because of their intransigency. Agencies had to form a united front to negotiate media terms. Up until then, media houses and agencies had individual agreements for media commission of 15%.
The Group produced a document titled “Terms and Conditions for the Accreditation of Advertising Agencies” which stipulated that recognised agencies–that is agencies who would earn placement commission from the media–should have at least five clients with an acceptable annual advertising expenditure, and be able to provide the full range of advertising services.
By 1964, the concept of an association of advertising agencies coalesced. A constitution was drawn up. At the same time, the media formed the Trinidad and Tobago Publishers and Broadcasters Association and adopted the Thompson criteria for agency recognition.
The AAATT’s key drivers were Julian Beck and Julian Davies of Davies and Chislett, Reggie Da Silva of K&E-CPV, and John Corbin of Corbin Compton Advertising. Seven agencies signed on: Christiansen & Belgrave, Corbin Compton, Davies and Chislett, Horniblow Cox-Freeman, Lonsdale, and NCK.
On the client side, the Advertisers Association was started under the leadership of David Allsebrook of Nestle. Members were the major international companies operating locally.
The two Associations joined forces to negotiate media rates and policies, develop voluntary advertising standards, and to resolve disputes through another new entity, the Advertising Standards Authority. The Associations’ combined strengths changed the dynamic between agencies and the media. The AAATT drew up membership and accreditation criteria, and negotiated a higher early payment incentive with the media. The media accepted the Advertising Standards Authority as the adjudicating body for disputes and negotiated rather than imposed rate increases.
Clients accepted best practices for inviting speculative presentations. The Associations held joint symposiums which updated old and new advertising practitioners of the rules of the game. Everyone agreed to play by those rules.
This led to many rewarding decades of mutual respect and co-operation between advertisers, agencies and the media.
The AAATT of today has withstood difficult economic times, the universal accessibility of skills and know-how via computers and the internet, and the radical transformation of the ways in which people interact with media. It continues to represent the best practitioners of communications in Trinidad and Tobago and regionally, with its members constantly working to strengthen the Association’s role in an ever-evolving communications industry.