When my team was preparing for the new anniversary content about how Bernafon’s visual identity has evolved in the last 75 years, we came across the many marketing campaigns that the company has created since 1946. It was interesting and even more fun to see how Bernafon has used the crossbow to build a logo reflecting its passion for hearing, and how the company has become more and more digital and multi-channel in its communications.
Figure 1: History of Bernafon’s logo.
The research in our marketing archives inspired me to learn more about the history of advertising. When did human beings discover the power of advertising? What was the Golden Age of advertising like? And compared to the past, has advertising really changed? In this article, we will find some of the answers and some of the most important milestones in the evolution of advertising will be highlighted.
This is how it all started – probably
It is still not clear when businesses started to use messages to differentiate themselves. What is quite clear though is that early forms of advertising were verbal. In order to bring attention to what they wanted to sell, people in ancient markets shouted to advertise their goods and services. The first known written ad dates back to 3000 BC and was found in the ruins of Thebes, which is part of ancient Egypt (Wood, 1958). Another important piece of evidence is a printing plate made of copper which was found to be used to produce promotional posters in ancient China (960 – 1127 AD) (Liu, 2018).
Figure 2: Copper printing plate from ancient China, during the Song dynasty (960 – 1297 AD)
(Source: BabelStone, 2011).
A history-making invention
Around four centuries after the invention of the copper printing plate, the printing revolution began with the invention of the Gutenberg press – the first mechanical movable-type printing press, making books widely accessible to people around Europe (History, 2019). Along with books came newspapers, magazines, and journals, and companies started mass production of flyers and trade cards (similar to today’s business cards) to advertise their products and services in the 17th century.
The world’s first TV ad
It’s only 80 years ago that the first TV commercial was aired on 1 July 1941. The video promoted a Bulova watch and was around 10 seconds long, but see for yourself:
Video source: YouTube, 2012.
Are you wondering how much money the company spent for this very first TV ad? It was only 9 US Dollars: $4 in air charges and $5 in station charges (Adage, 2016). Incredible, isn’t it?
The Golden Age of advertising
Let’s leave the 1940s and enter the Golden Age in the history of advertising. The time between the 1960s and 1980s was filled with industry legends such as William Bernbach and David Ogilvy. It was the time where companies started to allocate big advertising budgets. And it was the time where advertising professionals started to think big. One of those big ideas was the “Think Small” campaign for the Volkswagen Beetle, considered to be the best advertising campaign of the twentieth century by Ad Age (Adage, 1999).
Figure 3: Volkswagen Beetle “Think small” campaign visuals over the years.
Fast, faster, digital
It was in 1994 when the very first digital banner ad was released (Digiday, 2017). In 2000, Google developed its advertising platform Google AdWords (today known as Google Ads) that made it possible for businesses to target ads based on people’s Google search history and browsing preferences (Search Engine Journal, 2018). Facebook – the other giant of the industry – introduced Facebook ads in 2007 (Facebook, 2007), offering almost countless opportunities to companies to advertise their products and services (also read our blog post for Tips for creating the puppy-effect on social media). These two companies are constantly developing their digital territories and are still expanding their advertising networks today.
In less than 30 years, today’s highly targeted and personalized digital advertising has overtaken the traditional channels including TV, outdoor billboards, newspaper, radio, etc. (Statista, 2019). It is obvious that the tools we use to advertise our products and services to people have dramatically changed in the many years of advertising history. But are the traditional means of advertising still applicable? Well, I believe advertising in its essence is still about the relationship between a sender and a recipient of a certain message. Sure, with user-generated content, the relationship can become more complicated as the consumers of today can be part of advertising, rather than just passive observers. So, before you create your next advertising campaign, think about what content will trigger the desired action with your audience - just as if you were a seller in an ancient market.
I believe advertising in its essence is still about the relationship between a sender and a recipient of a certain message.
BabelStone (2011, August 2). Bronze printing plate for an advertisement. Wikimedia Commons. Retrieved from: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bronze_printing_plate_for_an_advertisement.jpg
Benes, R. (2017, November 8). The beginning of a giant industry: An oral history of the first banner ad. Digiday. Retrieved from: https://digiday.com/media/history-of-the-banner-ad/
Facebook (2007, November 6). Facebook unveils Facebook Ads. Facebook. Retrieved from: https://about.fb.com/news/2007/11/facebook-unveils-facebook-ads/
Feldman, S. (2019, September 24). This is what advertising will look like in 2021. Statista. Retrieved from: https://www.statista.com/chart/19438/forecasted-ad-spending/
History (2019, October 10). Printing Press. History. Retrieved from: https://www.history.com/topics/inventions/printing-press
Liu, H. (2008). Chinese Business: Landscapes and Strategies. Routledge.
Montti, R. (2018, June 27). Google Adwords is now Google Ads. Search Engine Journal. Retrieved from: https://www.searchenginejournal.com/google-updates-advertising/258807/#close
Poggi, J. (2016, July 1). Flashback Friday: TV’s first commercial ran 75 years ago; Bulova was first brand to air a (legal) commercial. Adage. Retrieved from: https://adage.com/article/media/flash-back-friday-tv-commercial-ran-75-years-ago-today/304777
Poggi, J. (1999, March 29). “Think Small” gets big credit in “The Advertising Century”. Adage. Retrieved from: https://adage.com/article/media/flash-back-friday-tv-commercial-ran-75-years-ago-today/304777
TheBDscraps (2012, March 4). Bulova: world’s first television advertisement. YouTube. Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8JenAyMmZ68
Wood, J. P. (1958). The story of advertising. The Ronald Press Company.