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Marketing Through the Ages Part I - From Town Criers to Twitter Handles

A relatively young discipline, marketing has evolved rapidly over the past few hundred years. We look here at the many, sometimes weird and wonderful, techniques that have been employed, in the first in our series of articles looking at marketing through the ages.

Tim Newman, Telemarketing Specialist

The Telemarketing Company

Part I - From Town Criers to Twitter Handles

Ever since humans quit their nomadic lifestyle in favour of a more settled farming existence, they have been able to produce more goods than they need. Excess food was useful for seeing them through droughts and famines of course, but once our ancient cousins had enough to eat and a little more time on their hands, they could turn their attention to producing other, less vital items. 

These early societies could spend a few hours a day producing jewellery and trinkets. And, with the birth of trinkets, came the birth of marketing… we can presume.

Sadly, we will never know how the sales patter of the first human marketer went; did the very first peasant salespeople work on commission? How long was it before they started to introduce “special offers” and “Buy One Get One Free” deals? I wonder how quickly our ancient cousins realised that presenting their well designed features and benefits increased their number of sales – “…this necklace shimmers wonderfully in the moonlight, which means you’re far more likely to attract the perfect husband in a darkened cave”.

I expect those questions will forever remain a mystery; so, rather than start our history of marketing back in the mists of the Neolithic, let’s bring it slightly further forward to a time period where we have at least some evidence of the techniques that were used.

The Early Days

The earliest signs of marketing come to us from China between the 11th and 7th centuries BC. It seems that poetry and bamboo flute jingles may have been used to sell sweets. What a lovely mental image.

Over in Europe, a little later, ancient Greek ladies of the night had their own slightly unusual marketing method. These women, engaged in the oldest profession on earth, would wear sandals with studded heels to produce a distinctive clicking sound, advertising their wares to the local men folk.

As the towns and cities of Europe grew in size and people began promoting their products far and wide, a new breed of direct marketing evolved: the town crier. These robust gents with booming lungs would advertise the arrival of particular merchants and any deals they happened to be offering.

Although this type of word-of-mouth marketing seems very old-fashioned, a Twitter user singing the praises of a particular computer game or brand of shampoo can readily be considered the town crier of the 21st century.

Signs

Papyrus

The next rung up from word-of-mouth techniques were physical advertisements. The earliest evidence of advertising in hand-written form comes from ancient Egypt. Scraps of papyrus have been discovered baring the marks of special offers and promotional deals. It is not known whether these papyrus scraps were distributed or stuck on walls, but they were clearly used to boost sales.

From hand-written signs, the next obvious step-up was printing, for that slightly more professional look. The earliest example of a printed advert comes from China. A copper printing plate, which dates back to the Song Dynasty (960 and 1276 AD), has been unearthed carrying the following message:

“Jinan Liu's Fine Needle Shop: We buy high quality steel rods and make fine quality needles, to be ready for use at home in no time.”

The Chinese plate also includes one of the earliest examples of a trademark: a rabbit holding a needle.

Gradually, in Europe, larger illustrated signage became more popular, these signs were used to point the predominantly illiterate population towards businesses; pictures of anvils, bags of flour and shoes adorned the streets, inviting potential customers to pop in.

Look out for Part II of our series, which takes us from the early days to the impact of the printing press, and follows developments through to the first Radio and TV ads in the 1920s and 30s. 

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