The Land of Israel Through the Eyes of Adverts

Edited by Ran Levi
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Movie Clips


Right up to that ill-fated day, nearly 2000 years ago, when the city of Pompei was buried under a torrent of volcanic ash spewed out of Mount Vesuvius, the ancient city was considered one of the Roman Empire’s richest and most prosperous epicentres. Their financial comfort allowed residents to indulge in a host of pastime activities; one of which happened to be watching gladiator fights. “And exactly how do you know that?” you might wonder. Well, “Twenty gladiator pairs under the patronage of Decimus Lucretius […] and 10 gladiator pairs under the patronage of his son, Decimus Lucretius Valens, will battle it out on the 8th […] of April. Furthermore, they will also be fighting all manners of wild animals.” This was the wording of an ad – that’s right, an actual 2000-year-old advert found engraved on a wall on one of Pompei’s busiest high streets.

As it turns out, the doomed Roman city’s walls were teeming with such adverts. Meanwhile, passersby who happened to glance down, might come across adverts of a somewhat different nature: a drawing of a male phallus in its… ahem… fully ‘alert’ state, pointing in a certain direction – the road where the local brothel was situated.

The adverts found in Pompei offer a fascinating tableau of a local culture wiped off the face of the earth, eons ago. Ironically, were we to attempt a similar exploration of the local culture in Israel/Palestine in the far more recent past – let’s say, the last hundred years – we would soon find out that it really isn’t all that simple. Adverts in Pompei were quite literally etched in stone, which was how they remained so pristinely preserved underneath all that volcanic ash. Posters, press ads, and billboards on the other hand, used for advertising in modern times, did not fare as well through the years. Fortunately, much of the video footage that is kept at the Israeli Film Archive – scenes of a period spanning roughly a hundred years – also features adverts. And just as it had been with ancient Pompei, here too the adverts provide a unique lens through which one may enjoy a contemplative glimpse of the past.

This collection features an assortment of adverts produced in the land between the 1920s and ‘70s. We will endeavour to use them as a way of exploring the various trends and processes Israeli society has seen throughout the decades, as captured through the camera lens – a form of advertorial archaeology, if you will.


Hebron’s Finest Hotel

Our archaeological adventure’s first stop takes us all the way back to 1863, a time that marked the first appearance of Hebrew language publications, Ha-Levanon (‘the Lebanon’) and Havatzelet (‘lily’) in the land. The first ever advert to feature on the pages of a Hebrew language newspaper in Palestine appeared in the fourth issue of Havatzelet: it was text only, without any illustrations or tongue-in-cheek puns, and had been consigned to the very bottom of the issue’s last page. The ad was a call for donations towards the construction of a new synagogue. The fact that the ad, in essence, was not of a retail nature offers an accurate portrayal of the locals’ financial circumstances at the time: not only were there so few businesses around – large or small – that could afford to purchase the ad space, fundamental awareness of the advantages of advertising was virtually non-existent.

First glimpses of change began to appear at the turn of the 20th century, in tandem with the mass waves of Jewish emigration from Europe. Those immigrants, especially those who had come from relatively well-off Western European countries, ushered in with them not only a relative improvement in the local Jewish community’s overall financial situation, but also a demand for the cultural luxuries that were commonplace in their native countries such as the theatre, cafes, entertainment shows, and so forth.


Testimony of that is evident on the pages of Doar Hayom (‘today’s post’) which, in 1919, was the first daily Hebrew-language newspaper whose revenue was predominantly ad-based, with adverts covering up to 60 percent of page space. Eshel Abraham – Hebron’s Finest Hotel!; Save your teeth from rot and decay! Sr. Sarkis K. Samarjian, expert dentist, etc. These slogans, appearing on the front page of one of Doar Hayom’s early issues, were indicative of the changes the country had seen since the 19th century: more disposable income towards holidaying and leisure, and a rise in the number of professionals and tradespeople offering a host of modern services to the locals.


The earliest adverts kept at the film archive are also of the same period, e.g. an advert dating back to 1928 in which farmers are urged to purchase fertiliser made by a brand called Union. This particular advert can teach us a fair bit about the locals’ priorities at the time, and their attitudes towards this then-relatively new trend called ‘advertising.’ In order to sell some fertiliser, advertisers opted to use a series of quotes from the Bible, coupled with footage of Hebrew workers toiling away at the harvest – elements that foreground the Zionist vision of purchasing and revitalising Jewish land that was so instrumental to the pioneers’ philosophy. The fact that these are adverts that are over four minutes long – a veritable eternity by contemporary advertising standards – also shows us that for filmgoers of the 1920s, these advertisements were a perfectly legitimate way of gathering new information about the world around them. That is to say, the adverts were certainly not seen as a patience-trying nuisance bur rather, as interesting, and genuinely gripping content; perhaps every bit as much as the film for which they’d gone to the cinema in the first place.

Yet another fascinating aspect of local advertising in the first few decades of the 20th century is the relatively meagre space taken up by advertising brands in the same adverts about them and commissioned by them. At [Israeli food corporation giant] Tnuva, for instance, they much preferred to highlight the Zionist element in the company’s work. Their 1938 carp fish advert features the picturesque vistas of the Galilee region and the Sea of Galilee, as well as footage of Jewish pioneers collecting the fishing nets. The one mention of the Tnuva brand only comes on in the last few seconds of the advert, in the form of a tiny sign on the outside of a van.

The 1950s: Advertising Wins a Promotion

In the 1930s, the country saw a mass wave of German immigrants (the now famous ‘Yekke’ migration) arriving on its shores, and it was them who ushered in this brave new world of professional advertising. If, to date, those who had been coming up with ad concepts, scripts, and messages had been the advertisers themselves, the country was now seeing the meteoric rise of ad agencies who were offering those very services to their clientele. Per one estimate, by the end of the 1930s Tel Aviv already had roughly 25 ad agencies operating in the city. Their founders took on names that foregrounded the novel element of this burgeoning industry such as ‘Novel Advertising’ (‘pirsum hadish’) and ‘Modern Advertising’ (‘pirsum modern’), etc. That said, local mass media – including the press, radio, and film – were still very nascent in British Mandatory Palestine, which saw advertisers scrambling to seize every last advertising opportunity available to them. For instance, attending Tel Aviv’s annual Purim Parade (aka ‘adloyada’), taking out billboard ads, and designing unique and eye-catching shop display windows.

Following the establishing of the State of Israel, local media’s evolution went into hyperdrive: the Haganah resistance’s underground radio station became the state’s public radio broadcaster, and whereas television broadcasting was still but a pipe dream – local filmmaking was also coming into its own. Advertisements too, were becoming increasingly polished and more professional; however, their content remained fundamentally different to that of the ads we have got so used to seeing in the 21st century. How so, you wonder? Well, modern advertising for one puts a far greater emphasis on the viewer, and on portraying the way(s) in which the advertised product would benefit their well-being or change their life. The finest example of this modern approach are the campaigns for female sanitary pads that try to convince the viewers that they need only choose the right pad (the one being advertised, of course) for their lives to be forever changed, delivering them unparalleled levels of carefree joy and freedom.

1950s averts, on the other hand, boast a far more practical philosophy, i.e. highlighting the product’s quality and excellent features, with hardly any acknowledgement of the consumer and their individual needs. A brilliant example of that takes us to a 1959 Friedman Radiators advert which is almost entirely dedicated to the size of the radiator’s gas tank – in other words, its practical specs. Had this been a contemporary advert, we would undoubtedly expect to see a happy, tightknit family spending a delightfully cosy evening, all curled up together by the radiator.

Another prominent feature of 1950s advertising is the beginning of what, today, we have come to know as branding: the attempt to shape a certain idea of a product or manufacturer, beyond its physical specs and features, in the eyes of one’s target demographic. An early example of that is a 1950 advert for Amcor electric fridges that hardly even mentions the actual fridges. Instead, a combination of footage and voiceover narration aims to highlight the top-end manufacturing process and the factory’s immaculate QA standards; naturally, in order to establish a connection between the concepts of ‘Amcor’ and ‘Quality’ in the viewers’ minds.

Also noteworthy is the fact that in virtually all adverts of that period, ‘quality’ and ‘abroad’ were two concepts that always seemed to go hand in hand: whenever the advertiser wished to illustrate that their product is of exceptional quality, they would often point out that the product has been approved for international export, or that its manufacturing followed US standards – and at times, even supervised by US manufacturing engineers.


The 1960s: The Transition Years

If in the 1950s, one might have gleaned the earliest signs of budding modernisation in the advertising industry then in the 1960s, as a new decade rolled in, that change was now in full swing. For instance, let’s have a look at a 1950 Tempo soft drinks advert in which two female models are shown visiting the company’s factory. Despite opting for models – an exceedingly rare choice in adverts of the time – the advertisers, ultimately, still chose to foreground the factory and its range of products, with the models, at best, there as attractive background ornaments: sauntering around the machines and sipping their drinks.


In an Osem ice cream advert that aired just two years later, the framing of the celebrity starring in it is already that much closer to the concept of the ‘presenter’ as we have come to know it today. That celebrity is Rafi Levi. According to the host of Israeli football podcast, HaKipod (‘the hedgehog’), Effie Brick, Levi was an A-list footballer who had scored no fewer than 11 goals for Israel’s national team. As such, the first half of the advert is all about him, with no reference whatsoever to the aforementioned ice cream – and it is only later that we get to see him and his teammates savouring the refreshingly cold treat. In a break from advertisements of yore, in this ad we learn nothing of the quality level of the ice cream’s manufacturing process, let alone the available flavours. This advert is every bit as much about the celebrity as it is about the product that they are promoting.

Another fascinating indicator of this shift is notable in a 1960 Amcor espresso machine advert in which four men and women, in distinctly upper middleclass attire, are shown playing bridge whilst sipping coffee from the new espresso maker. As said, whereas earlier adverts tended to focus on the product and its features, or emphasise the superior quality of the manufacturing process, here for the first time we have an acknowledgement of a connection between a product and a certain lifestyle attributed to the target demographic – in this case, an attempt to establish a link between Tel Aviv’s sophisticated middle classes and the quality coffee made by this top-end coffeemaker.

One other major process taking place in the 1960s is the Israeli advertising industry’s coming of age as it finally started to find its footing, following in the footsteps of US advertisers. In 1959, Israel launched an ad chart [a-la Top 40], commissioned by the Israeli Advertising Union, as a way of promoting film advertising. Three years later, in 1962, the first Advertisers’ Union conference was held and attended by a host of industrialists, journalists, and a great many reps from the world of advertising.

One of the archives’ later adverts is a 1979 National Insurance infomercial, starring singer-songwriter Ariel Zilber, in which one can witness the aforementioned process coming full circle: not only is the advert entirely focused on the celebrity – there is now far greatr affinity between his occupation and the advertising message (In this context, Zilber and his band are performing their single, Independent in the Field (‘atzmai bashetach’), whose lyrics complement the theme of the infomercial – national insurance for the self-employed and freelance contractors).



The two trends I have outlined – shifting the focus away from the product and onto the consumer, their needs, and lifestyle, alongside taking to frequently using celebrities in advertising – are both testimony to a far more fundamental shift taking place in Israeli society from the 1960s onwards: the transition from a collectivist, ideology-driven society (in which the collective trumps the individual) into an individualistic society in which one’s own aspirations and desires are every bit as important (if not that much more) as those that shape the society in which they live. All of that is painstakingly evident in the archive’s collection of advertisements.

One wonders what future generations will make of our contemporary adverts that come at us on TV, online, on the radio, and on podcasts. Might they be able to recognise early signs of yet another societal change to which we are currently oblivious?

Movie clips

Oranges Orchard

Oranges have always been the pride and joy of the country’s modern-day Jewish community, in addition to being a symbol of a thriving local agriculture – one that can easily compete in international markets and hold its own versus the produce of other countries with a much longer history of industrialised agriculture. It is, therefore, of little surprise that the earliest advert found in the Israeli Film Archive uses the orange grove as a way of associating the product (an orange drink, one would assume) with Zionist ideology which, many at the time followed with great zeal and fervour.

Advertisement For Chemical Fertilizer

This advert is, without a doubt, one of the period’s most sophisticated and technically advanced creations. Alongside standard footage of workers in ‘tembel’ hats, shovelling away at the grove, and slides featuring quotes from the Bible – yet again, hammering in the connection with pioneering Zionism and the love of the land – the ad also uses Stop Motion animation which, one can only imagine, was incredibly hard to produce with the technology available to local filmmakers of the 1920s. The advert’s astonishing length, at nearly five minutes, shows us how creators of the period credited their audiences with tremendous patience to ad content, certainly compared to modern-day ones. Adverts at the time were a novelty every bit as exhilarating as the actual films shown on the screen.

Commercial for Electric Refrigerators by the New Amcor Factory

Whilst the protagonists of this advert are electric fridges – a novel, trailblazing product at the time – the advertisement itself hardly gives them or their features the time of day – choosing instead to focus on the Amcor factory and their top quality, innovative manufacturing processes – clearly, as a way of bolstering the Amcor brand which, at the time, already had a long list of electrical appliances to its name. Notably, there is special emphasis on “Philco’s American manufacturing method,” and the use of “US machinery and appliances, under the mentoring of Philco engineers,” which is the advertisers’ way of giving further credence to their claim that this is, indeed, an extraordinarily top-quality product.

Advertisement for Bella Beauty Parlor in Tel Aviv.

The next two adverts – Bella’s Beauty Parlour in this entry, and the Pnina 24 Beauty Salon in the next – illustrate one of the most radical changes in local advertising between the 1920s and ‘50s. The Bella’s Beauty Parlour advert, which is the earlier of the two, is essentially an infomercial: outlining the parlour’s range of services (including manicures, makeup, getting dolled up for the ball), unique products available, and so on. The models used in the advert are quite literally extras, with their sole function being to allow the beautician to demonstrate on them some treatment or another, as though they were no more than human mannequins.

Commercial for Pnina 24 Beauty Salon

The models featured in this 1950s advert serve a fundamentally different purpose to their 1928 predecessors in the Bella’s Beauty Parlour ad: we never see them actually having the treatment but only at the end of it, showcasing the results. The models are seen as well-groomed and attractive, regardless of any cosmetic treatments they may have just had (see the expensive jewellery and designer clothes they are in) as a way of getting the viewer to want to be just like them – a ego-stroking nod to the salon’s clientele. Any particular services that are actually on offer at the beauty salon are effectively relegated to the backseat.

Amcor Coffee Machine

Two couples enjoying a spirited game of Bridge in this (rather amusing) Amcor coffeemaker advert. Exactly what is the relation between Bridge and coffee? None whatsoever – which is the whole point. In the 1950s and ‘60s, advertisers began to shift the focus away from the products (i.e. infomercials that outline the product’s features and advantages) and onto the consumers. In this particular case, the advertiser sought to establish an intuitive connection between the espresso maker and Tel Aviv’s thriving bohemian scene.

Advertisement for Tempo Soft Drink

This advert, and the next two (Osem ice cream and National Insurance) demonstrate the change in advertisers’ approach to the celebrity’s role in their ads. In this advert, we are watching two models having a tour of the factory; however, what they are actually doing amounts to very little indeed: taking photos against the backdrop of the manufacturing machines, sipping a soft drink out of a bottle, and so forth. At no point are viewers even given their full names.

Advertisement for Ice Cream Produced by Osem

Unlike the previous advert, in this ad for Osem ice cream, the celebrity (Israeli national team footballer, Rafi Levi) assumes a far more prominent role. The advert opens with footage of a football match, so as to establish the player’s claim to fame. The camera then follows him up the stairs as he enters his home, etc. The actor here is so much more than just part of the furniture: the advertiser seeks to cement a clear relation between player and product, in a way that very much evokes contemporary adverts’ use of presenters.

In this advert, we can witness the culmination of the shift in advertisers’ approach to using celebrities in their ads. In our first celebrity-based ad (Tempo soft drinks), the models were bit players, at best. In the second advert, (Osem ice cream), the celebrity is given more to do, however there is very little connection between his claim to fame (being an A-list footballer) and the product at hand. Finally, in this advert, the focus shifts entirely onto the celebrity (singer-songwriter Ariel Zilber), and a close affinity is established between the celebrity’s line of work, i.e. music, and the service at the heart of the ad.

Adloyada and Purim Celebrations in Tel Aviv 1935 and 1934

In the 1930s, local mass media was still very nascent; and so, with the exception of print media, advertisers had virtually no other advertising avenues that would allow them the large-scale exposure that they were after; meaning they had to think outside the box. This advert illustrates one such advertising alternative they came up with: attending the annual Purim parade which, back then, was frequented by tens of thousands of adults and children.

The First of May

Towards the end of the 1930s, Tel Aviv Council had already started putting up designated boards for paid advertising. And whilst there is no telling whether the ads seen in this footage were, in fact, put up on such boards, the fact remains that these ads do mark the earliest beginnings of billboard advertising – which continues to evolve to this day. Interestingly, the majority of the ads caught on camera here are text only – unlike other places, e.g. Europe (and Israel too, on occasion) where ads were, for the most part, veritable artworks, often created by first-rate artists such as Pablo Picasso himself, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.

Radio Broadcast Sponsored by Quick Detergent Company at the Decade Exposition

This footage captures two very interesting features of advertisements in the State of Israel’s earliest decades. The first is the advertiser’s (Quick) presence at the decennial expo, an event aimed at instilling a sense of pride in the burgeoning Israeli industry: in that sense the advertiser sought to, and indeed capitalised on the highly idealistic, Zionist spirit of the time. The second feature is the advertiser’s sponsorship of a Voice of Israel (‘kol Israel’) radio programme; a concept mostly likely inspired by the US where, by that point, commercial retailers were producing a fair bit of radio and TV programmes.

Shoe Polishing Balm “Mavrik” Is Exported to the United States

“A brand-new product has entered the list of Israeli goods exported to the United States” – this shoe polish advert opens with this announcement in an intro which sets the tone for the rest of the ad: the balm is exported to Europe, competing with foreign brands overseas, loaded onto vans en route to US ports, and so on. In this advert we have a clear demonstration of the high esteem Israeli consumers held foreign brands in, vs. any local equivalents which were deemed inferior.

An Advertisement for Friedman Heaters

This advert is a cross between the popular infomercial (of the kind that tends to focus more on the product’s appeal and advantages; in this case the volume of the radiator’s gas tank) that was the industry standard in the country during the first half of the 20th century, and a more modern brand-centric ad (which tries to cement the manufacturer’s image in the eyes of the viewer, e.g. “Friedman is the best.”) In subsequent decades, we will witness a steady decline in infomercials as little by little, brand ads move in to become the new normal.

Israeli Advertising Association Screens a hit parade of Commercials in Tel Aviv

This clip is not an advert, per se, but rather a short news report about a conference whose purpose, according to the newscaster, is to promote film advertising which is the second most important advertising platform after print media. This tells us that unlike the US, where radio and television both went commercial rather early on, Israeli state radio broadcasting was neither the most inviting nor accessible advertising avenue at the time (television, of course, was still nowhere near a prospect at the time.) Incidentally, another thing illustrated by the conference is the advertising industry’s efforts at going fully professional in the ensuing decades, after the establishing of the State of Israel.

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