1922 Encyclopædia Britannica/War Loan Publicity Campaigns

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WAR LOAN PUBLICITY CAMPAIGNS. In connexion with this account of publicity relating to war financing in Great Britain, the article Liberty Loan Publicity Campaign and the United States section of the article Savings Movement will afford a broad view of the activities in these two countries. Prior to the outbreak of war in 1914, Government loans in Great Britain were subscribed by a very limited circle of large investors, businesses and corporations. Publicity in connexion with the floating of them began and ended with the issuing of a prospectus, its publication in the Press, and its distribution by a limited number of bankers and stockbrokers. In order, however, to raise the vast sums of money required by the Government for the prosecution of the war, other and far bolder publicity methods had to be inaugurated during 1914-9. It was necessary to appeal to a very much wider circle of subscribers — a circle eventually no narrower than the whole population of the British Islands — and to urge investment in War Loans as a patriotic duty. The first attempts at the application of modern methods of publicity to the flotation of War Loans were on a limited scale, being hampered by official reluctance to depart from traditional procedure and a prejudice against any lapse from official “dignity.” A slight expansion of newspaper advertising, at first not widely departing from mere “publication of prospectus” advertising, and the use of posters displayed in the streets and on hoardings, marked the beginning of a new state of things. The work of the War Savings Committee from 1916 onwards, together with news of the successful publicity work in the U.S., helped to reconcile British officialism to an increase of activity in this direction.

By the time the so-called “Victory” Loan was floated, early in 1917, newspaper advertising had increased both in volume and effectiveness. Many more posters appeared on the hoardings. The services of local authorities were invoked, and public meetings were held, up and down the country, at which speakers drew attention to the country's pressing need of money and appealed openly for subscriptions. A great mass meeting in Trafalgar Square, held under the auspices of ministers of religion, was an outstanding publicity feature in connexion with the Victory Loan and was the forerunner of many similar gatherings.

It was, however, in connexion with the campaign for National War Bonds, which were first offered to the public in Sept. 1917, that organized publicity on behalf of British war-loan subscriptions displayed the fullest measure of its possibilities and achieved its greatest success. The National war Bonds were short-dated securities continuously on offer — in contrast to earlier loans the subscription lists for which had remained open only for some weeks. They were introduced by Mr. Bonar Law, the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, in order to inaugurate a period of “continuous borrowing” to provide a method by which the public could subscribe each week the weekly cost, or more than the weekly cost of the war. It was hoped by this means to avoid the dislocation of the money market and the inflation of currency (due to borrowing from banks for purposes of subscription) which had been found to attend the previous “closing date” loans.

Despite attractive terms the subscriptions for National War Bonds for the first two or three weeks were distinctly disappointing. Starting at an exceedingly low weekly total the receipts rapidly fell, and it says much for the extent to which publicity methods had already justified themselves that in Nov. 1917 the Chancellor of the Exchequer, faced with the prospect of the failure of the whole new scheme of continuous borrowing, saw fit to appoint Sir George (then Mr.) Sutton, the chairman of the Amalgamated Press Ltd., as Director of Publicity for the War Bond campaign — with an entirely free hand as to methods employed, and, within very wide limits, a free hand as to expenditure. The result was a complete change, from the first week of Dec. 1917, when the War Bond publicity campaign could have been said to be really started.

The backbone of the campaign was undoubtedly newspaper and periodical advertising. This advertising was practically continuous, though very widely varied. The appeal of it was cast and recast in a hundred ways. It struck first the finance note, the self-interest note, the explanatory “see what you get and what security” note, and then the loftier note of patriotism, of service, of exhortation to duty. The advertising was intensely human, written to appeal not merely to business men but to the people at large. It reached its highest pitch of emotional appeal during the terrible spring of 1918 when the Germans, pushing far into the Allied lines, threatened Amiens, and the whole British nation hung breathless upon the march of events. During those dark weeks the War Bond advertising told, almost day by day, the story of England in terms of Belgium; pointing out the inevitable and hideous consequences of defeat, and urging the duty of supporting with money the brave men then fighting.

Another point to be noted about the press advertising was its topicality. Appropriate “copy” was actually kept standing for immediate publication in the event of certain contingencies such as a great victory, or (on the other side of the picture) the air-bombing of important British towns.

It was recognized that in order to sustain interest in War Bonds over a long period the steady appeal of the press advertising required reinforcing by periods of special activity. The necessary stimulus was obtained by the organization throughout the country of special “weeks” such as “Tank Weeks” — “Business Men's Week” — “War Weapons Weeks” — “Feed the Guns Weeks.” The main features of these were similar. They consisted essentially in the provision of some spectacular feature round which the appeal for subscriptions could centre. Tanks, for instance (then just newly invented), each with an officer and crew, took up their stand for a week at a time in the leading towns and cities. Officials of the Bank of England and of the Post Office accompanied the tanks, and very many million pounds' worth of bonds were sold by them.

The effect of the visit of a tank to a town was that for one week at least that town talked and thought of nothing but War Bonds. Local papers devoted columns to descriptions of the amount of business done, and local firms and business men vied with each other to subscribe the largest amounts. Leaflets (which were frequently dropped from aeroplanes in order to obtain the maximum of spectacular effect), posters, speakers, etc., were, of course, supplied by the Director of Publicity for each tank in each town.

“Feed the Guns” weeks were run on the same principle, the tanks being replaced by giant howitzers fitted with an ingenious device whereby the bonds sold could actually be stamped in the breeches of the guns themselves.

“Business Men's Week,” which was held simultaneously throughout the country, and “War Weapons Weeks,” which were worked town by town, were run somewhat differently. In both these cases the cities and towns of the country were assessed to subscribe amounts calculated on a basis of £2 10s. 0d. per head of population, and this amount instead of being expressed in figures was expressed as some definite weapon of war which the amount in question would suffice to purchase. Thus a large city would be asked to subscribe sufficient in a week to purchase one or more battleships, a smaller town enough to purchase a cruiser, a township enough to purchase a squadron of aeroplanes, a village enough for a howitzer.

This dramatic method of presenting each community with an opportunity to achieve concrete expression of its duty as a community brought splendid results. Scarcely a town or city in the country failed to perform its task, and during very many of the weeks sums far in excess of the assessments were subscribed. Liverpool, for instance, asked to purchase a battleship, invested sufficient during its week to purchase no less than six!

All these separate campaigns of special weeks were “led off” by spectacular displays in Trafalgar Square, London, which was transformed for each occasion into something resembling a huge circus. Tanks or guns, as the case might be, were “parked” and surrounded with skilfully built imitation trenches and entanglements; barriers and huts were erected, painted scenery was provided to form a background, giant posters almost hid the façades of the National Gallery and the buildings surrounding the Square, and hundreds of thousands of people were attracted of a class which could probably not have been reached by any other form of appeal. Vast business was done during these Trafalgar Square weeks, sums running into many millions being invested during each. So great was the enthusiasm roused that some business firms actually marched down their employees with bands and flying flags to make their purchases of bonds during the prevailing excitement.

Not content with waiting in Trafalgar Square for subscriptions to come to them, two of these huge tanks snorted and puffed, day by day, through the streets of the city, calling at the offices of the leading insurance firms to collect applications for War Bonds. As a tank does not move swiftly it was necessary to limit this privilege of a “personal” call to firms desirous of investing £50,000 or over.

Government carrier-pigeons were also used, with great success from the point of view of publicity, to bring in applications from a distance to Trafalgar Square.

Another important publicity aspect of these special weeks was the opportunity each provided for an important official opening. Thus “Business Men's Week” was preceded by a great public meeting in the Connaught Rooms at which the Chancellor of the Exchequer was the chief speaker and to which all the leading bankers of the kingdom were invited. It is probable that from the financial point of view no more influential gathering than this has ever taken place. “Feed the Guns Weeks” were introduced by another great meeting at the Guildhall, addressed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Rt.-Hon. A. J. Balfour.

The extent of the response to these special weeks was enormous, as may be judged by one of them only, the “Business Men's Week,” which brought in £160,000,000 — nearly eight times as much as the average weekly total.

Apart, however, from greatly increased purchases, these special weeks, “booms,” and “stunts” were very valuable as yielding a continuous “news” story. The problem before the publicity director was to maintain interest in War Bonds week after week and month after month; and had the campaign once been allowed to become a matter of routine, lacking new incidents, the “news” story of it would perforce have dropped out of the columns of the press. As it was, so great was the variety and so many the incidents that a full-size news agency had to be installed at headquarters, where a large staff was kept busily engaged in collecting news by telegram and telephone from all over the country and passing it on to the press.

A successful publicity device was the inter-town War Bond Race. The race, of course, was to secure the largest total of local holdings in War Bonds, and, promoted and fostered by the Publicity Director, it went gaily on for months — the varying position of the leading cities, now one leading, now another, forming for over a year an almost staple article of news.

Many other publicity devices were employed, among which the following may be noted:—

(1). Arranging with the Postmaster-General to adopt a cancellation mark carrying the words “Buy War Bonds,” so that practically every citizen received a daily reminder of his duty on the envelope of every letter received. (2). A letter signed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer urging investment as a patriotic duty — sent out by the Bank of England with each dividend on a Government security. (3). A letter signed by the chairmen of banks to the individual depositors urging that deposits should be reduced and the money invested in War Bonds. (4). A letter sent out by limited liability companies simultaneously with the dispatch of their dividend warrants, urging that the amount of the dividend should be at once invested in War Bonds.

These letters ran, of course, into many millions, and the drafting, preparation, and printing of them was not the least arduous of the tasks which the Publicity Director and his staff had to face.

After the Armistice a closing date for War Bonds was announced, and a very extensive final appeal was organized which brought the total of investment in them up to the magnificent figure of £1,600.000,000 subscribed in under 17 months.

The publicity in connexion with War Bonds more than justified itself. It established the feasibility of the hitherto untried system of continuous borrowing; it secured a total of subscriptions far in excess of anything that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had contemplated; and it did, in fact, finance the war to a finish.

Publicity in connexion with post-Armistice loans — notably the Thanksgiving Loan of 1919 (popularly termed the “Joy Loan”) was conducted on similar lines. War, which altered and remodelled so much that had appeared fixed, certainly brought a new spirit and a new method into the floating of Government loans in Great Britain. The success achieved was so marked as to make it unlikely that any future Chancellor of the Exchequer would embark upon any big loan issue without first assuring himself of the services of the most influential publicity adviser.