A little puff

In Brief

In a chapter full of references to wind, Bloom uses the word "puff" to describe what his client, Alexander Keyes, wants in return for renewing a recurring ad in the Freeman's Journal: "he practically promised he'd give the renewal. But he wants just a little puff. What will I tell him, Mr Crawford?" He seems to be referring to Keyes' request that the publisher run a short paragraph in the Evening Telegraph, a sister newspaper operated from the same offices on Prince's Street. But Keyes also wants some input into the appearance of the Freeman ad—which too might count as a puff.

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In addition to other kinds of inflated speech, the OED notes that, since the 17th century, "puff" (as a noun, but similarly as a verb) has referred to "Undue or inflated praise or commendation, uttered or written in order to influence public estimation; an extravagantly laudatory advertisement or review of a book, a performer or performance, a tradesman's goods, or the like." Such uses have stayed current throughout the modern era. In a 12 October 2015 article on The New Statesman website, Ross Wilson states that “a literary puff is the promotional blurb that appears on book jackets and publishers’ press releases . . . Getting to put 'Booker Prize Winner' and, perhaps, a puff from the panel of judges on your dust-jacket is priceless.”

Bloom tells Crawford that Keyes "wants a par to call attention in the Telegraph too, the Saturday pink." Presumably this free plug would consist of a paragraph mentioning or praising the merchant's business. Earlier in Aeolus, as Bloom discusses Keyes' ad with a Freeman official, Red Murray, Murray has told him, "Of course, if he wants a par . . . we can do him one." Bloom has run this idea past the paper's foreman, Joseph Patrick Nannetti—"just a little par calling attention. You know the usual. Highclass licensed premises. Longfelt want. So on"—and Nannetti has agreed. Now he tries to get buy-in from the editor of the Telegraph: "if I can get the design I suppose it's worth a short par. He'd give the ad, I think."
 
For more than a century there has been a trend of blurring together news, entertainment, and advertising. In an article titled "Ads Masquerading as Journalism," Neil Macdonald refers to this blended form of media as "branded content" (CBC News, 4 February 2015). Others might use the word hype. A short history of advertising on the site Ad Age notes that, by 1900, “ads became a single component of planned campaigns that had to be integrated into appropriate marketing strategies. Skilled copywriting, layout and illustration became important in achieving continuity and strengthening selling appeals. . . . The role of the account exec expanded from bringing in new business to serving as a liaison between the client and the creative staff, while media buyers continued to see that the ads were placed in the best possible location and shopped for the best possible deals.”

Bloom works for a newspaper rather than an ad agency, but he is taking on some of this new role of liaison between client, media outlet, and creative design. He appears to be in the vanguard of attentiveness to modern forms of media saturation, just as his own thoughts often fall victim to the bombardment of commercial messages he encounters throughout the city. In addition to pushing the idea of parallel mentions in two newspapers, he is involved in an effort to see that the Freeman ad can fulfill the creative "design" that Keyes desires: "Two crossed keys here. A circle. Then here the name. Alexander Keyes, tea, wine, and spirit merchant. So on. . . . Then round the top in leaded: the house of keys." 

His modest request for client control and branded content is too much for the old-fashioned editor Crawford, who replies, “He can kiss my ass.” Bloom braces himself: “A bit nervy. Look out for squalls.” His request for a little puff ends with the threat of violent squalls.

Interestingly, the kinds of promotional co-branding represented in Aeolus played a significant part in the marketplace reception of Ulysses. Aaron Jaffe observes, in Modernism and the Culture of Celebrity (Cambridge UP, 2005), that the notoriety surrounding the publication of Ulysses was used to advance the careers of other modernist writers, such as T.S. Eliot: “In the October 1922 Dial, the issue preceding the Waste Land number, the editors puff Eliot’s coming attractions with a comparison to Ulysses, which comes out of this context: ‘It is not improbable that the appearance of The Waste Land will rank with that of Ulysses in the degree of interest it will call forth’” (73). Jaffe argues that not only editors but also writers like Joyce, Eliot, and Pound worked to promote one another's reputations and "puff" the modernist movement in literature.

Doug Pope 2018
Two paragraphs from page 2 of the 16 June 1904 Evening Telegraph, not part of the "prepaid notices," puffing the "American Doctors" on Kildare Street. Source:
www.splitpea.co.uk.