Competition was stiff for newspaper advertisements in the 1920s, as advertisers sought newer, more engaging opportunities in full-color magazines and radio commercials, instead of black and white print ads, according to Kathleen Morgan Drowne and Patrick Huber’s book “The 1920s.” Still there were some industries that remained loyal to printing their promotions in newspaper: Consumer goods manufacturers and food retailers benefited from the medium’s high turnover and daily circulation.
Grocery stores began using newspapers to print weekly sales offers and special food prices in the early 1920s. This trend started with the chain grocery retailer Kroger and became the norm for the industry by the end of the decade. Consumer goods manufacturers, such as toiletries, drugs, food and beverages, also used newspaper advertisements, spending more in newspapers than any other medium to promote their products features. Other business that preferred printing ads in papers were the small mom-and-pop business, which advertised their goods and services in regional papers to target customers in their area.
Newspaper print ads in the Roaring Twenties were black and white, and therefore were limited graphically. Typically, the layouts were small blocks of space strategically placed around the newspaper's articles, and included realistic product images or scenic pictures, a terse slogan and informative copy. In many cases, an ad for a product was printed next to an article of a related topic. For example, an ad for headache medication was typically close to an article about a similar ailment, as cited in the book “Visual Communication: Images with Messages”by Paul Martin Lester.
The 1920s brought new scare tactics to newspaper advertisements not seen in any proceeding decade, according to Richard Malin Ohmann’s book “Selling Culture: Magazines, Markets, and Class at the Turn of the Century.” “Scare copy” was used to illustrate the negativity that would befall the customer, should they choose not to use the product. A woman facing social disgrace from not using a certain product to clean her home or a man risking his job if he did not use the correct shaving razor, are examples of some of the messages that used this communication strategy.
In 1912, congress passed a law requiring newspapers to label product promotions as “advertisements,” as it was easy to mistake an ad for a newspaper’s editorial. This law didn’t deceiving advertising practices, as 1920s advertisers still created ads using the newspaper’s format to fool the public into thinking it was actual news. Additionally, it was common practice for business to boast product attributes that were either grandiose or completely untrue. Thus by the mid-1920s the Federal Trade Commission, aiming to crack down on false advertising, started targeting business that used unethical communication practices on the grounds that false advertising is a form of unfair competition. In some cases, the FTC even took companies to court to curtail this widely-used business practice, as stated by Wayne Overbeck in his book “Major Principles of Media Law.”