A Brief Look at Marketing Through the Ages

Dimitris Glezos
January 28, 2016
8 min read

Marketing is a constantly changing industry, one that is currently being driven by new and evolving technologies, but we haven’t always lived in such a connected world. In this post, we’re taking a brief look at the evolution of marketing. Maybe there are a few traditional marketing tactics that we’re forgetting too soon!

The Beginning

In 1731, the first general interest magazine, The Gentleman’s Magazine, was published in London. Many years later, the first paid advertisement appeared in a French newspaper. Then the telegraph was used for mass unsolicited message delivery (who knew spam started so long ago!) for the first time in recorded history. Billboard rentals and branding trademarks closed out the new marketing techniques launched through the late 1800’s, and the opening of the Harvard Business School in 1908 began a new era for marketers.

Early 1900’s: The First World War Sets the Stage

In the early 1900’s, profitable magazines in the United States were publishing reform campaigns in support of WWI. But readers soon grew bored of the reform theme, causing general circulation magazines to focus on the culture of consumerism. Publications like the Ladies’ Home Journal and The Saturday Evening Post emerged, and became fixtures in middle-class homes throughout the country.

After the First World War, tabloid newspapers gained popularity, reaching millions of consumers by covering topics such as crime, scandals, and sports. Advertisers took advantage of this national reach and began hiring movie stars and sports figures to persuade Americans to purchase products ranging from cigarettes to soda pop. In 1922, radio advertising began, creating a new channel for advertisers to reach consumers. In the next decade, more than half of American households will own a radio.

1950’s: New Marketing Mediums Emerge

The era of radio advertising was quickly overtaken by television and telephone advertising (by this time more than half of American households also own a television). During the mid 1900’s, Americans see the first recorded television ad and telemarketing emerges as a common marketing tactic. Overall spending shifts away from radio, with radio ad revenue dropping 9% from 1953 to 1954.

Late 1900’s: Welcome to the Digital Age

1984 is remembered by many marketers as the year that tech really took off, with Apple launching its extremely successful Super Bowl commercial directed by Ridley Scott. This type of advertising, combined with IBM’s introduction of the personal computer, would shape and strengthen the overall marketing landscape. In fact, personal computers made desktop publishing and print advertising so easy that newspaper ad revenue was estimated at $25 billion in 1985.

In the late 1990’s, the first 2G mobile network was created, paving the way for future advancements like SMS messaging. Americans also see the first automated, large-scale commercial example of spam from Phoenix law firm, Center and Seigal, who advertise their services by posting a message on several thousand newsgroups. By 1995, personal computers and mobile phones have been adopted by wide audiences and are seen by marketers as valuable tools for commerce.

“The Shift”

It’s the 1990’s and the early 2000’s where marketers start to see the biggest shifts in marketing channels, and a number of new technologies arise that will continue to shape how businesses speak to customers. We’ll try to include everything but tweet us @transifex if you think we’ve left something out!

1995-1998: Search Marketing Makes Its Debut

Search engines like Yahoo, Alta Vista, and Ask.com emerge, helping users find the information and services that they’re looking for, when they’re looking for them. What many marketers didn’t know at the time is that search marketing would change the way the marketing industry would think about, speak to, and ultimately sell to customers. From December 1995, the 16 million people using the web for search would jump to 70 million in December 1997!

During this time, Google launches its own search engine, emphasizing the use of search algorithms and the importance of on-page factors for ranking including metadata and keyword density. Google also develops PageRank, an application to rank websites more accurately using inbound links. Danny Sullivan also makes a name for himself in the search community by creating Search Engine Watch, a website providing tips and information about search to the SEO community.

2000: The Dot-Com Bubble Pops

The internet made it easy for companies to launch websites (also called dot-coms at the time). The problem was that business owners assumed that by launching a website, you could be extremely successful. Venture capital firms further reinforced this idea by investing millions into these trendy Internet companies. Meanwhile, consumers were being exposed to new, over-the-top types of advertising, like $2 million commercial spots during the Super Bowl.

Unfortunately, the success of online websites was overestimated, and resulted in the infamous stock market crash, which many refer to as the dot-com bubble “popping.” Not only did established technology firms see a decline in stocks due to slow profits, the trendy internet businesses that recently emerged saw a more permanent demise as many of them lacked earnings to begin with.

A few select companies like Amazon, eBay, and most notably, Google, survived the crash, becoming industry-dominating mega-firms. In 2000, Google launched AdWords and PPC, giving another channel for marketers to reach customers. Google would later release Google Analytics, a revolutionary platform for tracking ad campaigns, and continued to work diligently on improving their search algorithm. Named algorithm updates began with Boston, Cassandra, Dominic, Esmerelda, Fritz, and Florida. 13 more updates would be released over the next decade, leading marketers to more commonly known updates such as Panda, Penguin, and Hummingbird, but that’s something we’ll need to explore in a longer post!

2001-2003: All About the User

After the dot-com bubble burst, marketers began seeing the power that the consumer has, and inbound marketing was born. A greater emphasis was being placed on creating value for customers, user-centered design, collaboration, and information sharing, rather than the older outbound focus on buying ads and hoping for leads. Inbound marketing initiatives can also be used to provide customers with information, reassuring them as they move through the funnel toward the final call to action, which in most cases is a sale.

2004: The Rise of Social Media

LinkedIn, Myspace, and Facebook are founded, and start gaining traction among individuals of all ages. People are using social media to connect with friends and are creating profiles that express their personal views. Two years later, Twitter is founded, putting a unique twist on social updates, limiting users to phrases that are 140 characters or less. These websites become so popular that interest from other countries spark multilingual versions of the websites. Oh, blogging platforms pop up around this time too, giving even more power to consumers who want to share their thoughts and ideas.

2006: The End of Standardization

The user-centric marketing approach coupled with the rise of social media in the years leading up to 2006 really put the power back in the hands of the consumer. Large American chains that typically dominated the landscape like Wal-Mart, Best Buy, and McDonald’s were forced to abandon their strategies of standardization, instead adjusting store formats, merchandise mixes, and operating and marketing processes to appeal to international customers. Along with this came the need to localize digital content and advertising into the language of international users. It was more about personalization and making customers feel like your marketing and branding was speaking to them, not only in a language they could understand, but in a familiar way that created a positive user experience.

2007-2010: Cellphones Take Over

In 2007, there were 295 million subscribers on 3G networks, which would popularize music and video streaming. By 2010, 90% of US households have a cellphone, and by 2012, half of all Americans own a smartphone. Time spent on the Internet (from all devices) surpasses the time spent watching television for those aged 13 to 24.

2012: Real Leads from Social Media

In 2012, social media has evolved beyond networking websites, and are places where users look to get information about products and advice from peers before making a purchase. Businesses are also creating social media pages on websites like Facebook and Twitter and are creating company blogs that focus on providing the user with valuable insights and information. Marketers see the growing potential of these channels (about two thirds of web users use social network sites at this point) and that social media and blogs have the power to create real customers and leads.
Along with social media, extreme growth is seen in smartphone and tablet usage, reaching more than 250 million people. Online video channels and the e-commerce industry will grow exponentially. During 2012, 84% of internet researchers will make at least one purchase online.

Today: Robust Multi-Channel Marketing

Technology has dramatically changed the way that marketers speak to, reach, and connect with customers. While each marketing team will use a different marketing mix, it’s important to think about incorporating each and every marketing tactic, from telemarketing and print advertising to PPC ads and inbound when promoting your brand, product, and website.

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Dimitris Glezos
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