Modern advertising has become somewhat…creepy. When you google something today, it will most certainly come back to haunt you in the form of an advertisement personally tailored to your “interests.” For example, I’ve been thinking about purchasing a new pair of glasses from Warby Parker. I looked at their website, and landed on a particular brand that I put in my shopping cart, but still haven’t purchased because, well, I’m poor right now. Those glasses, the Durand style to be exact, now follow me everywhere I go around the internet. Every website has an ad on the side showcasing the Warby Parker Durand eyeglasses in Burnt Lemon Tortoise, screaming, “Michaela, buy me! Buy me! Have you forgotten the desire that prompted you to add me to your cart in the first place?!” This is highly annoying because I still want the glasses but can’t afford them right now; but it is also unnerving, because it means there is a company that believes itself to be keenly attune to my needs and desires as a consumer. This type of tailored advertising seems to rob me of my individuation from the machine, making me feel I’m caught up in a system that knows me intimately, but not by my own volition.
In Dickens’s time, advertisers certainly did not have the kind of Big Brother-esque power that Google has today. Even so, advertisers found ways to connect with their desired consumers through carefully pairing their advertisements to match both the type of reader associated with the text and also the content of the stories themselves. For example, the advertisements that go along with the first section of Dickens’s The Mystery of Edwin Drood are for items that might be of interest to upper middle class educated men and women. They also can be associated with the contents of the story. Here is a list of some of the items advertised: cod liver oil, life insurance, wine and spirits, jewelry, portrait albums, writing papers, and books for purchase, including a household guide and the novels of Jane Austen. The cod liver oil was meant to combat physical weakness and ill health, something one might want to do after reading a tale so focused on death; life insurance would connect with a murder mystery story quite nicely. The jewelry ties in with Rosa’s ring, and the portrait album with her portrait hanging in Jasper’s room. Most of the advertisements, though, were for other books, showing that the advertisers knew their audiences and hoped to spur their interest in further reading after the completion of Dickens’s novel. Advertising in the nineteenth century was surely not as creepy as it is today, but that doesn’t mean that the advertisements were not very intentional in their placement and purpose.