Advertising Agencies and the Adoption of Radio: A Diffusion of Innovations Perspective

  • Randy D. Jacobs School of Communication, University of Hartford, West Hartford, CT, USA


Purpose – In the 1920s radio broadcasters presented advertising agencies with a new advertising medium. Many advertising and media historians have concluded that advertising agencies were resistant to the new medium and hesitant to recommend its use to clients. This study challenges these widely held beliefs, providing a more comprehensive review of the radio advertising attitudes and behavior of six prominent, 1920s-era agencies.

Methodology/approach – Roger’s diffusion of innovations model is employed to categorize the
agencies researched based on their degree of innovativeness. The data used was gathered from
primary and secondary sources. Archival materials were collected from the John W. Hartman Center
for Sales, Advertising & Marketing History (Duke University), the Recorded Sound Reference Center
(Library of Congress), Columbia University’s Oral History Collection and the Library of American
Broadcasting (University of Maryland).

Findings – The data supports a more refined and varied assessment of 1920s-era advertising agencies’ consideration of radio advertising. Ample evidence exists that some agencies took quick advantage of the opportunity making it unreasonable to claim that advertising agencies were slow to embrace the medium. The diffusion model is a useful framework for interpreting advertising agencies’ adoption

Research limitation/implications – The fragmentary nature of the documentary materials requires some license in the interpretation of advertising agency actions. The analysis would also benefit from a larger sample of agencies to evaluate.

Originality/value – This research brings detail and clarity to the orientation of these 1920s advertising
agencies towards radio advertising. It makes creative use of the diffusion of innovations model to evaluate the degree of advertising agency innovativeness regarding the use of radio as an advertising medium.


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