We often fall into the trap of thinking that the world is completely different now than it was thousands of years ago. Our intuition tells us that today’s technologies have separated us from our ancient ancestors. We let ourselves believe that concepts like marketing are new and unique to the past few millennia, not realizing that, not only was marketing alive and well in our yesteryears, but it also had striking similarities to our present knowledge of it.
Knowing our history helps us understand our present positioning and our future trajectory. This hindsight allows us to progress more effectively as we move forward. From ancient Roman billboards to social media marketing, marketers have learned how to harness the powers of branding and audience targeting and will continue to learn and progress through the years to come.
When did marketing start?
Excavations have revealed evidence of advertising in Pompeii as far back as the Roman Empire. Some advertisements were unique to the time, created from mosaics and found in merchants’ homes. Others were quite similar to signs and publications we see today. Archeologists have found signs giving directions to hotels, some that roughly announce “For Rent,” and others we tend to equate to the modern day ads.
Even before the Roman era, marketing has been an essential tool for merchants and barterers. Salespeople have long faced the question of how to make their products stand out in a saturated market. Until recently, the focus of marketing has been on the product rather than the customer. How is this product better than other products? Why should consumers buy it? Marketplaces were filled with men and women shouting from stalls, trying to describe their products louder than their neighbors.
In the 1400s, the printing press allowed marketers to shift from mosaic tiles and shouting to more sophisticated mass-print ads. This gave birth to a revolutionary opportunity for advertisers and publishers: paid advertising. Some of the first paid ads were published in a 1622 weekly magazine in London called “Relations News.” Benjamin Franklin later popularized paid advertising in America using his “General Magazine,” which began publication in 1741.
Thanks to the printing press and the rise of paid advertising, we have a look into the marketing of snake oils, cures for all ails, and other products that didn’t work. These advertisements appeared in magazines, newspapers, and people’s mailboxes all over the U.S. Particularly popular in the 1800s, snake oil and similar products threw marketing into infamy. To the public, sales folks were con artists trying to make easy money, and advertisements were their tool to take advantage of consumers.
How did we get to where we are today?
To combat deceptive advertising, President Woodrow Wilson signed into law the Federal Trade Commission Act in 1914. The commission soon began work to regulate marketing and to help ensure honesty between producers and consumers. This set in motion a different approach to marketing just in time for broadcast radio to begin gaining popularity. Now, not only were advertisers incentivized against making deliberately false statements about their products, the radio era also brought a new marketing method. It was still early in the new century. The world was at war, the Roaring Twenties were just around the corner, and technological advances seemed to be moving faster than anyone could keep up.
Throughout the twentieth century, marketers faced a new problem. They could no longer just say anything they thought would earn them business, and with so many options for advertising—television joined radio as a broadcast platform in 1927—they suddenly had to strategize. Gone were the days of the “spray and pray” methodology; marketers had to plan.
Neil Borden, professor of advertising at the Harvard Graduate School of Business, coined the idea of a “marketing mix.” His theory suggested that the perfect marketing campaign was a steady mix of the four P’s: product, promotion, place, and price. The right product with the right promotion at the right place will sell for the right price. This new concept encouraged marketers to begin attempting to track sales and study why people were buying those products, but data was limited. Cookies and pixels didn’t exist to allow analysts to track which site a customer had come from or which ads they clicked on.
With the rise of mobile phones, personal computers, and the internet, that data has become readily available, and since the beginning of the twenty-first century, marketers have started diving further and further into consumer analytics. This plunge opened up the doors for the human side of marketing. Today, social media allows us to connect directly with our audience, see what they clicked on, and understand how they engage with different content. We have a direct line of communication with our customers. We just have to use it.
Where are we headed?
As new technologies and policies arise, it’s exciting to see where they’ll take the world of marketing. It’s impossible to know for sure, but we believe that the future of marketing lies in relationships. You have so much access to user data, but are you using it to effectively learn what you need to about your customers? Are you using the methods available to communicate with them and create personalized messages?
At THuS Marketing, we see a future where marketing is audience-focused rather than product-focused. We don’t ask if our product, promotion, place, and price are calibrated to sell a product. We ask if we are effectively positioned to help the customer.
What surprised you about the history of marketing? Tell us in the comments below, and contact us to learn more about a future focused on benefiting the audience and creating lasting relationships.