Une publicité de guerre. Les “annonces” dans les journal l’Illustration (1914-1918). A book by Robert Gallic

It may not find a place among the “standard literature” concerning WWI, yet the short book of Robert Gallic (Une publicité de guerre. Les “annonce” dans les journal l’Illustration (1914-1918), L’Harmattan, Paris, 2011) deserves attentions. The Author provides in this study a general description of the advertisement in wartime focusing on L’Illustration, one of the most widespread newspapers in France since the beginning of the XX century. If the first chapter describes the graphic and thematic changes occurred in December 1914 as a consequence of the outbreak of the conflict, the second chapter shows how far the war became from 1914 to 1918 a market in full expansion, whose necessities were intercepted and exploited by specific advertising strategies. However, it would seem quite naïf, thinking that war economy has only required new objects to be produced and sold. The third and last chapter of Gallic’s book points out in fact, how advertising transmits also new values and attitudes, which had to support – and sometimes to exasperate – the French national sentiments.

The worth of this study lies however not in the analysis or in the historical contextualization (which is quite general and not so innovative), but in the iconographic sources. The book affords a great number of different kinds of advertising announcements and enables so the reader to compare them and catch their implicit communication strategies. Even the simplest objects needed in the everyday living – clocks, torches, pens, multipurpose pastilles – in the trenches or in the hospital – gas masks, compasses, toilette products, legs prosthesis – are not simply offered to the market, in order to satisfy the needs of the whole society in the war time. Publicity assumes also an active role, which cannot be limited to the business economic interests. It gains a social value, as long as it depicts these same “war necessities” with an almost cheerful and reassuring aura, appealing to and mobilizing public support. From this point of view these advertising images represent a virtual crossing point of different – material, economical, psychological, social, medical or political – aspects of a “global war”, such as WWI was.

A flourishing literature has emerged in the last decade, trying to describe the intricate connection between WWI and advertising, yet this slim book gives its contribution to the discussion: it provides a direct view into the topic, letting images speaking for themselves. Images which disclose us the universe of feelings, fears and hopes of the common people during the WWI, and which continue to affect unconsciously also the reader's imagination today. And so, comparing the different, yet always attractive advertisements of Uronal ( a medical drug used to dissolve uric acid), which depict a toast in the trench or an angelic nurse flying over the hospital beds, it happens, that we finally understand what Samuel Beckett once wrote in Molloy: “If I go on long enough calling that my life, I’ll end up by believing it. It’s the principle of advertising!”