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A History of Direct Marketing – up to the 1970s

In News by olga

In this article, as part of our series about direct marketing, we explore the history of direct marketing from ancient times all the way to the 1970s.

Ancient History

For the very earliest known example of direct marketing we need to go all the way back to 1000 B.C. and ancient Egypt. A landowner wrote a papyrus-based advertisement offering payment of gold for the return of his runaway slave. This 3,000+ years old example of direct marketing is now housed in the British Museum. Various ancient cultures, including Ancient Rome used stone tablets to write adverts on, mainly for selling products in market places. This is another form of direct marketing with the available resources at the time!

The arrival of the printing press

Print first became possible around 1440 with the arrival of the Gutenberg printing press. This had a major impact on direct marketing and print advertising quickly spread around Europe. It’s recorded, for example, that around 1480 William Caxton printed advertising pamphlets from his printing press in Westminster Abbey. Print, still to this day, has a major role to play in many direct marketing projects.

Direct marketing advances – colonisation of the Americas

The Americas were quick to understand the advantages of direct marketing and had a major role to play in its evolution. William Penn (who founded the state of Pennsylvania and who the state is named after) is recorded as publishing a pamphlet back in 1681. This, promoted life in Pennsylvania and following its translation into Dutch and German lead to mass migration of Europeans to the state.

Even preceding the creation of the US as a country, in the early 18th century, Merchants were selling products via postal catalogues. Direct marketing was used to mass broadcast (via door to door techniques) anti-British messages during the American War of Independence. Similarly, one of the founding Fathers of the US, Benjamin Franklin promoted anti-British messages as well as plenty of marketing advertisements in the weekly pamphlet “Poor Richard’s Almanack” from 1732 to 1758.

Aaron Montgomery Ward – Considered to be the founder of direct marketing

Aaron Montgomery Ward (1843 – 1913) is regarded as the founder of both direct mail and direct marketing. Ward started a mail order business with a one-page catalogue back in 1872. This small business was earning over $1m by 1888. Richard Warren Sears (1863-1914), adopted the same tactic by mailing advertising flyers and catalogues selling watches to initially rural and customers living in small towns. By 1896, the Sears catalogue featured 500+ products and was distributed to 300,000+ addresses in the US.

The adoption of flyers and catalogues as an advertisement technique, lead to the formation of huge companies. Montgomery Ward & Co traded until 1995 and Sears is a major worldwide brand and department store / catalogue company. The national postal service was cheaper to use than having to pay for expensive stores, so both companies could under-cut retailers. The catalogues were able to provide variety of choice, with low prices and also string guarantees and money back pledges.

The arrival of computers

Computers first arrived from the 1950s, and were marketed using direct marketing techniques! This may seem a little ironic, considering that computers are now main competitors to direct mail. Although true to a certain extent, direct marketing through computers is just another marketing channel available for marketers to use. The data stored on computers has made it much easier for organisations to practice direct marketing over the last few decades.

1967 – Lester Wunderman coins the phrase “Direct Marketing”

Lester Wunderman Coined the phrase “Direct Marketing” in a 1967 speech at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Wunderman is considered by many to be the Father of direct marketing and he was responsible for considerable innovation in direct marketing projects associated with loyalty programs in the financial services industry.

1970s – An explosion of colour

The 1970s saw direct marketing explode with colour, with garishly colourful designs being used for a variety of advertising projects. The maturing of computers made graphic design possible for a wider variety of businesses. Consumers at the time were used to colour so bold graphic designs and large colourful headlines were needed to capture their attention.

Call Baker Goodchild

The definition of direct marketing will continue to evolve as the decades pass by. We hope you’ve enjoyed this guide to the history of direct marketing. Do call us if you have any direct marketing related question. Whilst it’s great to learn about history, Baker Goodchild is very much a 21st century provider of direct marketing related services. Call us today on 0800 612 1972 or complete our contact form and we will be in touch ASAP.