When ‘Hear the Boat Sing’ (HTBS) started in March 2009, it was posted on ‘Blogger’, the free weblog publishing tool from Google. In August 2014, after more than five years and nearly 1,700 blog posts, the site and its archive moved to ‘WordPress’ and became ‘heartheboatsing.com’. Sadly, this did not mean that HTBS contributors became ‘dot com millionaires’ (to use a rather dated phrase). The advertisements that appeared at the bottom of the .com posts were put there by WordPress to compensate them for providing a ‘free’ service and they took whatever little income that the pop-ups produced. However, at the end of last month HTBS had an upgrade. We are still with WordPress but the new arrangement will mean that we have a larger storage capacity and have new possibilities for the site. Most of these are in the future but one immediate and very welcome effect is that adverts, many ugly and intrusive, will no longer appear on ‘Hear The Boat Sing’. Had we been able to pick which promotions appeared however, we may have allowed them to continue as images of rowing have long been a favourite for the advertising ‘Mad Men’ (and probably ‘Mad Women’) to include in their efforts.
My search for advertisements that include rowing has been fairly cursory but the two below are the earliest that I have found.
Interestingly, the early advertisements illustrated above already include the two most common reasons to include images of rowing in an advertisement for a product unrelated to the sport – even today. Firstly, an association with rowing is often used to add some ‘class’ to a product’s image. Secondly, a rowing crew is frequently used as an analogy of life and its struggles.
Using rowing to add so-called ‘class’ to the image of a product is still, sadly, thought of as effective today. Certainly in both Britain and the United States, the sport is still associated by many with so-called ‘elitist’ educational establishments such as public (i.e. private) schools and Oxford / Cambridge in the UK and prep schools and the Ivy League Colleges in the U.S.
In the past 99% of advertisements for cars were aimed at men and their manly aspirations (today this could be down as low as 90%) and associating an allegedly up-market and macho sport with a new car was an obvious thing to do.
As I have already suggested, to use a rowing crew as an analogy for some aspect of life’s endeavours is an old idea – in fact, one so old and so overused that it has become a cliché. Providers of financial services seem to be the ones most fascinated with this trite idea.
Finally, humour is not something that I immediately thought of in relation to advertisements that use an association with rowing – but I did find the examples below.
Rowing historian Bill Miller has put together a nice collection of rowing advertisements on the Friends of Rowing History website. He writes: ‘It is impressive to see how much rowing was in the public eye up through the mid-20th century. This is supported by the use of rowing images and rowing heroes in advertising’. View Bill’s collection here.