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The history of Advertising

November 11, 2017

For millennia, people have yelled to passersby why they should buy their product. One can image the creative ways in which salespeople tried, at the point of purchase, to get people to purchase their wares.

There is evidence of rock painting and posters for elected officials.

In the middle ages, when people couldn’t read, images were used to represent stores. A blacksmith had an anvil, a cobbler a simple shoe.

These were the first logos. Like the man yelling at his cart, most of advertising were at the point of purchase.

Starting with the printing press, advertising turned from point of purchase to advertising away from the purchase.

Advertising in print was, and still is, salesmanship in print. It is no different from the salesman yelling to buy at the market, and probably no less clever.

The idea behind any piece of advertising, be in a print ad, television spot, and radio spot, is to create awareness of the eventual purchase decision.

The most valuable piece of real estate in marketing is the corner of the consumer’s brain. The repeated ad, jingle, or clever print piece is designed to generate awareness. Later, at the point of purchase, said awareness can influence a purchase decision.

Advertising  is salesmanship in print, designed to ‘influence” people into buying.

People see ads, hear jingles, read billboards all so that they might be nudged into a purchasing decision.

For most of the last century, advertising was exactly that – a nudge.

I’d like to buy the world a coke.
You’re soaking in it.
Just do it.
You’re in good hands.
Be all that you can be.
Bet you can’t just eat one.
Good to the last drop.

These are tag lines, designed to nudge a behavior. You should buy a coke, use Palmolive, wear Nike’s, get All State, join the Army, eat a lot of Lays, and drink Nescafe.

(Advertising also had other nudges: toothpaste ads always show a full toothbrush. Shampoo directions say “repeat” – doubling consumption.)

These taglines, or nudges, were a contract with the consumer. The contract was simple: advertising was the underwriter of content.

The 30-second TV spots that told consumers to Just Do it, or Be all that you could be, were the cost of heavily discounted content.

TV and radio were over the air, and somewhat free. Newspapers were very inexpensive, magazines were cheaper because of the full page ads.

The world tolerated advertising because it underwrote content. In cases where it didn’t, the world didn’t tolerate advertising. Direct mail didn’t underwrite mail, so it was called Junk Mail. Telemarketing didn’t underwrite the phone, so it was hated. Billboards didn’t really add value to the world, so they were never loved.

The world didn’t love any marketing that didn’t underwrite content.

To some extent, that is why the first internet failed. The first internet was just websites. When people went to, they just saw an ad. They didn’t see content underwritten by the ad. They just saw the ad.

That sucked.

Though, people didn’t have the language to explain why it sucked. In the euphoria if the early internet, people didn’t realize that visiting was different from “you’re soaking in it” underwriting good content.

That’s why people are not really fans of websites. Yes, brands still create them. And yes, consumers still use them, but there’s a sense that consumers don’t really like them.

Internally, people often don’t like their websites, and every 3-5 years it needs to “updated.”

Unlike a 30 second TV spot, people are not really sure of the point of the website.

Take, for example, the website for Coca Cola.

Unlike the 30-second spot, which underwrites content on TV, radio and print, this website is 100% an ad for Coke. I’m not suggesting that Coke having an online brochure for their brand is a bad thing. A quick look at the Internet archive shows it had the last major update in 2013, so they are probably in the midst of an update. The site seems to be for investors, and perhaps hiring.

The websites that were built in the second phase of the internet are different.

Sites like Google, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and Linkedin, these were not brands making online brochures. They were brands offering value in return for data. Use our products and service for free, they promised, and in return, we’ll sell your data.

They changed marketing. In the next blog post, we’ll get into how.

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