Find What You Were Looking For: Using Neural Networks to Trawl through Newspaper Advertisements

Advertisements offer us a sneak peek into the ideals and aspirations of past realities. They show the state of technology, the social functions of products, and provide information on the society in which a product was to be sold. In the Netherlands, mass advertising developed in the late nineteenth century. In 1880, the patent and trademark law allowed manufacturers to claim specific brand names. During the twentieth century, the Dutch advertising landscape transformed. According to Schreurs, one noticeable change was that design became more prominent, as opposed to the more factual, textual advertising of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, see Geschiedenis van de Reclame in Nederland (Schreurs, 2001). This blog shows how neural networks can help researchers to gain insights into possible visual trends in advertisements.

Delpher contains millions of advertisements in digital form. However, querying for advertisements with a specific visual style or ads for a particular product is more cumbersome than one would expect. First, advertisements regularly contain logo’s or stylishly formatted text, which have not been properly identified by OCR-software during digitization. This makes it difficult to locate ads for particular brands or products using full-text searching. For instance, querying for C&A would not have found the ad in Figure 1. Hence, a researcher could only find this ad by using keywords in the ad, such as ‘nylon’ or ‘pullover’.

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