The History of Online Marketing

Since the inception of print journalism, marketers have been using a variety of vehicles to advertise their products. From the yellow pages to the internet, traditional methods of reaching potential buyers have always been available.

In the early 1900s, the invention of the printing press made it possible to inexpensively publish magazines and newspapers on a large scale.

Because magazine and newspaper readership was established, people began to expect to see advertisements whenever they turned the page. This led to the birth of what is known as “traditional” online marketing.

While traditional offline marketing is still around, the way we interact with media has changed. These days, people are used to seeing ads whenever they log on to social media websites such as Twitter and Facebook.

The advent of social media changed the way in which marketers could market their products. Instead of just showing up in people’s faces, the now ubiquitous platforms allowed advertisers to target their audience based on what they liked and where they were.

This type of marketing, known as “digital marketing” or “inbound marketing,” relies heavily on data collection, analysis and personalization in order to drive marketing success.

And this is precisely what makes digital marketing so effective. The more we know about our customers and the better we can serve them, the more effective our marketing will be. Inbound marketing encourages continuous improvement and experimentation.

From Magazine Advertising to Blogging

Back in the 1800s, people mainly got their news from magazines and newspapers. Back then, ads were only a small fraction of the content inside these publications. They were simply there to make the publication more interesting and attractive to readers.

The first magazine to really make waves was The Ladies’ Home Journal, which was founded in 1883 and named after the esteemed Victorian lady who led its early campaigns. One of its co-founders was Margaret Caulfield, a former Vogue creative director who is considered the “mother” of modern advertising. She is also the author of the book Art of the Cold Call.

The Ladies’ Home Journal encouraged women to get out and make their own fun and attractive dresses as a way to improve their social status. Its advertisers included Louis Vuitton, Christian Dior, and Burberry.

During this time period, magazine advertising shifted from being predominantly illustrated to primarily being more textual. This is largely thanks to the efforts of the influential brothers, Ogden and Chadbourne White. They founded White Advertising in 1897 and popularized the use of text-based ads as a way to better target their audience.

White Advertising’s motto was “Speak to the eye,” which meant their clients wouldn’t have to delve into long, sometimes boring ads in order to make an impression.

In 1923, an Ogden White ad appeared in an Indianapolis newspaper touting a car brand called Arrow. It was a one-word, text-based advertisement that simply read, “Arrow.” This was the first of its kind, and it prompted the founders of Ogden White to create the so-called “jingle”—a type of commercial song used to advertise products. (It wasn’t, however, the first wordless ad. That title goes to Heinz, which ran a famous “78 cents” ad in the 1940s.)

The Golden Era of Magazine Advertising

During the late 1800s and the early 1900s, magazines were at the center of popular culture. They offered a glimpse into the lifestyles of the wealthy and influential. This was also the time period when magazines really started experimenting with different types of ads, most notably the “story” ad.

The story ad was born in the 1890s when publishers started realizing that they could use well-known writers and illustrators to create content that would be more engaging. While the format still includes a mix of text and illustrations, the overall feel is more akin to a graphic novel than a traditional magazine.

Some of the most iconic story ads from this era are those that appeared in Blackwood’s magazine, The Arena, which was founded in 1901. The publication was named after its main character, an African-American wrestler who had a feud with another legendary wrestler, Jack Johnson. (Johnson was eventually declared the winner of the match, despite having been disqualified.)

Blackwood’s magazine advertised a variety of products, including firearms, explosives, whiskey, and cars, with the illustration style and stories of The Arena being a reflection of the time period’s popular culture.

Direct Mailing And Package Delivery

When the United States Postal Service was established in 1861, it initially focused on delivering mail to people’s homes. It wasn’t until the late 19th century that the agency began to take on other tasks, such as package delivery and sending magazine and newspaper subscriptions.

Prior to this time period, people who wanted to receive a magazine or a newspaper would have to either go to a newsstand themselves or have a messenger come by and drop off a stack of publications. Not only was this a very time-consuming process, but it could also be dangerous, given the potential for theft along the way. (In one infamous incident in 1900, someone was murdered because they were waiting for a newspaper to be delivered by mail. The paper’s publisher eventually settled a wrongful-death lawsuit for $20,000.)

With the widespread adoption of mass-produced, personalized, and targeted mailings during the early 20th century, things began to change. Companies such as Sears, Roebuck & Co. and J. Peters & Co. began delivering their products and merchandise directly to consumers’ doors with no in-store visits necessary. (Sears still provides this service for customers who want to avoid the hassles of going into a retail location.)

Radio And TV

While magazines and newspapers were leading the way in terms of new marketing opportunities, many traditional marketers were hesitant to leave the comfort of their homes and venture into the unknown world of radio. This was mostly due to the fact that the technology was relatively new and therefore frightening.

Radio, which had initially flourished during the early 20th century, was nearly wiped out by the Great Depression. It wasn’t until the late 20th century that the medium really started to come back in style.

There were still major roadblocks for marketers, though. For one thing, getting a radio station to listen to your ad is nearly impossible. Additionally, reaching a large audience can be costly. (The average cost per thousand for national ads in the 1950s was $16.50. This cost more than $400 in today’s money.)

TV, meanwhile, had become mainstream during the early decades of the 20th century. Back then, most people got their TV shows from radio. In 1922, Philo T. Farnsworth, a scientist and entrepreneur, began working on a TV system that used only one solid state electronic valve. This was a significant breakthrough in the field at the time. (The first practical all-electronic “set” was introduced in 1923 and, in 1927, the first regularly scheduled TV show was broadcast.)

The advent of TV did more than just change the way we consume content. It also gave birth to the concept of “branding,” which is when a company identifies and associates its products with a specific set of values, beliefs, and perceptions.

The Dawn Of The Digital Marketing Era

The dawn of the digital marketing era is often considered to be the moment when a website gained independence from a marketer. The term “digital marketing” was initially coined in 1994 to encompass all of the different tools and methods used by marketers to reach an audience online. (Prior to this time period, people who wanted to advertise their products online had to rely on text-based banners and limited stock photography.)

While the term “digital marketing” was still mostly theoretical at the time, the practice of taking out ads on search engines had already become mainstream. As early as 1990, businesses were paying to get their products and services listed on major search engines, such as Google and Yahoo! 

In 1996, entrepreneurs Stephen and Stan Musgrave founded, an internet domain registrar, after discovering that most people couldn’t find what they were looking for online because there were too many choices. (In 2004, the company was purchased by Network Solutions for $16.7 million. As of 2019, GoDaddy is valued at over $30 billion.)

The dot-com bubble burst in 2000, but the internet still thrived. In fact, between 2000 and 2010, the internet experienced an amazing period of growth, largely thanks to the efforts of visionary entrepreneurs who saw the potential of the web.