The origins of marketing

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With all of this social media, crowdsourced, Googlitterface gubbins, we thought we would take a look at the origins of marketing to be a bit different.

Our interest was stirred after a visit to a museum about war – hence the link to the previous post. As we have already acknowledged, wars tend to create significant advances in technology – for example, during the Second World War, the advent of computing, radar, modern medicine and lots of other clever stuff were developed in record time, driven by a need for opposing nations to develop a competitive advantage.

The Cold War that followed, gave birth to space exploration, satellite technology, networked computers, the internet and so on.

So having established that wars increase innovation in technology, we wondered if there was any crossover between wars and marketing and as you will see, we found some interesting things.

Wars also drive innovations in marketing!

I have included a shot of a poster below, which was used as a recruitment tool. The ‘creative execution‘, (which was reprinted and distributed both as a flyer and a poster) was used widely to encourage people to sign up to the army. You will note that firstly, the opening paragraph is a word picture to help the prospect to visualise their current miserable situation, it also serves to amplify the pain of this.

Once they had a (sym)pathetic ear, the recruitment Sergeant’s address was then based in a pub to give the impression that most of the time would then be spent supping large volumes of ale, rather than fighting knee deep in a field with blunt metal rods, facing certain doom.

Creative Execution

Scarcity and Urgency

The pièce de résistance is then a description of a ‘cheap, luxurious’ life, lots of food and then they take it all away, by reminding that not everyone will be accepted. This is reverse psychology, to encourage a speedy response and to make the responder feel that they are one of the chosen few.

Not only is this designed as a marketing campaign, but it was accompanied by a word of mouth viral campaign. As you can see below – not only could you live the life of Riley, in the pub, with as much food as you can eat, but you also get the pick of the girls. Crikey, the army must have been heaven on earth, rather than heaven in earth!

Viral marketing

They used extensive demographic targeting and analysis to increase the number of people who would sign up and using these techniques, they marketed their campaign in areas where people would be more likely to view, empathise and respond.

Viral Marketing in the 18th Century

The viral, word of mouth element to the campaign shown above, was also essential as many of the ‘prospects’ could not read. Without meaning any offence in a modern context, apparently this eventually resulted in over 90% of the army being recruited from Ireland!

Of course, the recruiting sergeants were incentivised to land new ‘customers’, hence the development of the targeted marketing approach. As you can see here, there was also acknowledgement that a bit of creative license was also regularly employed, unlike modern marketing…

Creative License

The year this ‘creative execution’ was employed, believe it or not, was 1801! Now don’t get us wrong, we believe that marketing like this, particularly in a military context, has taken place since humans could communicate and that could mean thousands of years.

You only need to look at the Spartans to see that this is the case, but it is fascinating to see what we regard as ‘modern marketing’ methods have actually existed forever, all that actually changes is the medium for delivery of the campaign.

Can we use this in our business marketing?

Although, it may not have initally seemed relevant, maybe next time you run a marketing campaign, or design one for a client, this might help you address the fundamentals of the message and even the targeting, as they really haven’t changed much over the centuries. Having said this, we aren’t sure that directing your responses back to a pub would increase the results!

If you can think of any other early forms of marketing, add them into the comments and we can discuss them.


About the Author:

KnowledgeBank work with Companies to develop their data driven marketing solutions to generate profitable new customer relationships. We also deliver social media training, consultancy and strategy to hundreds of businesses across the UK. If you would like further information about how you can develop your own marketing activity or social media, please contact us on 01772 978 101.