The Shell Advertising Poster 1920–1953 Introduction The first Shell advertising poster was produced in 1920. Posters were displayed on the side of the delivery lorries transporting cans of fuel to customers across the country (see figure 1). These posters became known as Lorry Bills. Lorry Bills are characteristic of Shell’s advertising during the 1920s and 1930s. This ingenious method of advertising came about when Shell, along with other major companies, responded to public outcries against roadside hoardings in the countryside.
Figure 1: A photograph showing a Shell poster on the side of a delivery lorry in 1925.
The most innovative designs were produced from 1932 when Jack Beddington became responsible for the company’s advertising. Under his direction a list of artists not instinctively associated with commercial art were commissioned to convey simple messages for Lorry Bills. These artists went on to become famous names in British contemporary art, including Paul Nash, John Piper, Vanessa Bell, Ben Nicholson and Graham Sutherland. Instead of merely illustrating Shell oil and petrol, the company produced sets of posters with subtle themes centred on catchy slogans in a wide variety of artistic styles. Posters promoted motoring as a pleasurable activity, the British countryside and its hidden treasures, or the extraordinary range of people who relied upon Shell. Many of the artists explored different art movements such as Abstraction, Cubism and Impressionism and the Lorry Bills introduced the British public to new elements of Modern Art. There are over 7,000 printed posters and original artworks in the Shell Art Collection reflecting the charm and character of a nostalgic age of motoring. The 1920s In the 1920s, the first few Lorry Bill designs were simple and functional in their message, and illustrated the product. They displayed the commodity, identified the user and defined the use to which it could be put.
Figure 2: The first Shell poster produced. Five cans ‘Shell’, Shell Studio, 1920. Copyright Shell Brands International AG. Early Lorry Bills also showed the reliability and innovations of Shell’s new products.
‘Take No Risk – Take Shell’ (figure 3) features a new style of petrol pump, reinforcing the modern approach of the company. This simple image helped to draw attention to the pumps, which motorists could immediately recognise at a garage forecourt, at a time when garages were few and far between.
The 1930s The 1930s was a turning point for Shell and established the company as a leader in advertising. The number of private cars on British roads reached a million for the first time in 1930 and there was a growing concern that motoring was harming the British countryside. The Council for the Preservation of Rural England and SCAPA (The Society for Checking the Abuses of Public Advertising) protested against poster hoardings and obtrusive signs along the roads in the countryside. Heeding these protests, Shell removed all their placards and enamelled signs which were displayed outside garages and along country roads. Lorry Bills, however, remained the focal point for Shell’s advertising.