March 28, 2024

The History of Marketing: From Ancient Times to Modern Digital Media

From commercials to promotions, marketing has become so integral to our everyday lives that most of us barely notice it anymore. Yet marketing continues to thrive and grow, constantly evolving to become more efficient and effective. It begs the question, “How did marketing grow into what it is today?” Obviously there weren’t always televisions, radios or even newspapers, so how and where did marketing take its first steps? As it turns out, the answer to that isn’t so simple.

The History of Marketing DSM

What Is Marketing As We Know It Today?

To understand where marketing came from, we need to start where it is now. Defining what marketing is to us today isn’t easy, as it overlaps a lot with other fields. In fact, it’s easiest to define marketing as a mixture of advertising and sales with a lot of research thrown in. Modern marketing has evolved into something a lot more personal, it’s not just about thinking up the next viral commercial. Rather, it’s getting to know a target audience and what they want from a business, then delivering that to them in the form of products, services or even acts of philanthropy (PR moves).

Turning back the clock a little, the definition of marketing changes to “the total of activities involved in the transfer of goods from the producer or seller to the consumer or buyer,” [1] as per Turn the clock back even further, and we reach towards the origins of marketing.

What Did Marketing Look Like in the Ancient Times?

The earliest definition believed to have been found by etymologists is from 16th century dictionaries, and simply reads “the process of buying and selling at a market.” [2] However, evidence of some of the earliest markets dates back to an astounding 3000 BCE [3a] in the Middle-East.

As people started to realize it was easier to buy certain items rather than make them themselves, the popularity of markets rose as well. These took the forms of open air markets and bazaars, with semi-permanent stalls filled with produce, supplies and other quality goods. Early Western Europe saw markets move from city centers to the areas surrounding the rich and nobility, where demand for goods, as well as security, was greater [3b]. This eventually evolved into dedicated market towns and fairs, where both necessities and luxuries could be sold. Other types of markets sprang up through the ages, but all held the same general characteristics.

In other words, marketing could be argued to be as old as civilization itself, with no real starting time or place. To make things easy, we’ll focus on the more generalized definition that includes advertising and promotions in order to choose a more concrete starting point.

Our Timeline of Marketing From the 15th Century Onward

15th-18th Centuries: Adopting the Printing Press & General Interest Media

The 15th century is where we start our marketing journey, in 1450, just ten years after the invention of the Gutenberg printing press. Printed advertising wasn’t a new concept at this point, but the ability to mass produce it was, and the concept took the marketing world by storm. The next marketing milestone wasn’t until the 18th century, with the emergence of magazines in 1730. These were filled with items of general interest such as poems, products and political musings.

19th Century: News Outlets Turned to Business Tools

1836 to 1867 witnessed the first paid advertising in France newspapers, mass messaging via the telegraph (1864) and the possibility of billboard rentals (1867). What was originally used for news was now also a tool for businesses to reach out to the public. The advantage of these forms of advertisement was that they could effectively reach thousands of people through mediums that were already present within society.

20th Century: The Introduction of Technology to Marketing

The 20th century started the technological age, with radio advertisements beginning in 1922. Following the development of computers in 1940, the first recorded use of television advertising appeared in 1941 as a 10-second-long commercial for Bulova watches using the catchphrase “America runs on Bulova time.” [4] 1950 saw the introduction of telemarketing, cold calls to residences meant to gauge, or if possible, spark interest in making purchases. The telephone version of a door-to-door salesman.

It wasn’t until 1970 that the potential of computers was realized and e-commerce was invented. This sparked the development of database and relationship based marketing in 1980, as advertisers had a more direct connection to customers. However, this also sparked the appearance of computer spam, the digital version of a door-to-door salesman.

Carrying on to 1984, a concept called guerilla marketing was introduced, which is a technique involving surprise and unconventional means of interaction. The idea of guerilla marketing is to get people’s attention, but not immediately tell them what they’re paying attention to until they figure out it’s an advertisement. This often involves striking displays that are very obviously out of place, but have a vague, yet solid connection to whatever message they’re conveying.

Continuing the utilization of computers saw the first blog post being submitted in 1994, while 1995 saw the development of SEO and the popularization of search engines. This truly sent the digital age into a sprint as more and more people were turning to the internet to find everything they were looking for.

21st Century: Marketing in the Digital Age

Finally, we enter into the 21st century, starting off with the introduction of Pay Per Click (PPC) advertising and Google Adwords in the year 2000. This gave way to the creation of social media, starting with the founding of LinkedIn in 2002, and followed by MySpace (2003) and Facebook (2004). The arrival of Google Analytics in 2005 allowed website owners to monitor the traffic going through their site, and the arrival of YouTube alongside it introduced yet another media tool to reach the masses with. Finally, the social media train brought in the last two of its modern big contenders, with Twitter arriving in 2006, and Instagram in 2010. These rounded out what is now widely accepted as the largest online platforms worldwide, and became the perfect grounds for advertisers to operate.

Wrapping Up

As you can see, the road to modern marketing was anything but short, with new tools and methods appearing every few years. Advertisers have always had a tough job, having to find new and improved ways of reaching the masses, all while competing with others trying to do the same thing. As we’ve seen in our timeline, the introduction of new tools and creation of new techniques both had to be constantly adopted in order to stay afloat. However, every step of the journey brought marketing ever closer to what we now see each and every day.

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