The Rich History of Advertising

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Advertising has a long and storied history, stretching back hundreds of years. The write-up explores the rich history of advertising, from simple print ads in early newspapers to today’s sophisticated, data-driven digital ads. Advertising has evolved dramatically over time. Understanding this evolution is vital to appreciating the role advertising plays in modern society.

This article will explore some of the significant milestones in advertising history. We’ll see how breakthrough innovations like radio, TV, and the Internet transformed the industry. We’ll also discuss why taking a historical view of advertising matters—it allows us to understand current trends and prepare for future developments.

The rest of this writing will trace advertising’s progression decade-by-decade. We’ll uncover exciting stories and case studies along the way. And we’ll ponder the big questions: Where could advertising be headed next? How might emerging technologies continue to reshape marketing and media?

The What: History of Advertising

The history of advertising dates back thousands of years. Some of the earliest known advertisements come from ancient Egypt, where sales messages and announcements were etched onto stone tablets.

In ancient Rome and Greece, town criers would shout out notices and advertisements in public marketplaces to promote goods and services. Even political advertising has early beginnings, with candidates in ancient Pompeii scratching electoral advertisements onto city walls.

The advent of the printing press in the 15th century was a significant catalyst for the growth of advertising. Print media allowed advertisements to reach wider audiences than ever before. Newspapers became a popular advertising vehicle in the 17th century when weekly newspapers began featuring advertisements for various consumer goods and services.

Key milestones in advertising history include:

  • The emergence of the first modern advertisements in the 17th century
  • The launch of the first advertising agencies in the 19th century
  • The creation of memorable advertising icons like the Michelin Man (1898) and the Marlboro Man (1954)
  • The first TV commercial aired in 1941 during a baseball game on NBC
  • The launch of web banner ads in 1994 marked the start of digital advertising

Technological innovations have continually impacted and advanced advertising over time. The invention of lithography in the late 18th century enabled the use of images and artwork in ads. Later, the arrival of the telegraph, radio, and television transformed how ads were delivered and consumed. Most recently, the Internet and mobile technology have revolutionized advertising, allowing for highly targeted and interactive ads.

As technology progresses, we can expect advertising techniques and strategies to continue advancing. However, while the formats may change, the fundamental goal of advertising remains the same – to promote brands, products, and services to potential customers.

Pictorial Signs, Town Criers, and Oral Announcements

Pictorial signs are one of the earliest forms of advertising, dating back to ancient civilizations. Due to widespread illiteracy, these signs often used symbols and images to convey information about goods and services.

For instance, a blacksmith might display an anvil or hammer sign outside his workshop to indicate his trade, while inns and taverns would use images of food, beds, or ale to attract travelers. Pictorial signs were effective because they transcended language barriers and could be understood by people from different regions and backgrounds.

In societies with low literacy rates, town criers were crucial in disseminating information, including advertisements. Town criers were individuals employed by a town or city to walk the streets and public spaces, vocally announcing news, proclamations, and commercial messages to the populace.

They would often ring a bell to attract attention before making their announcements. Their oral messages could range from the arrival of fresh produce in the market to the announcement of sales and services offered by local merchants.

Similar to the role of town criers, oral announcements were a standard method of advertising in public spaces such as markets and fairs. Merchants and traders would directly promote their goods to passersby, using persuasive language and sometimes demonstrations to attract customers.

Oral announcements were interactive, allowing immediate feedback and engagement with potential buyers. This form of advertising relied heavily on the speaker’s charisma and ability to articulate the benefits of their products or services compellingly.

These early forms of advertising were essential for commerce and communication within communities before the advent of mass media. They were highly localized and personalized, tailored to the immediate surroundings and the audience.

The effectiveness of these methods lay in their direct and sensory approach—visual cues from pictorial signs, the auditory presence of a town crier’s voice, and the engaging nature of face-to-face oral announcements.

The First Print Advertisement

The world’s first recognized print advertisement appeared in England in the early 17th century. This ad was a simple announcement for a prayer book. It was featured in an English newspaper, specifically in the classified section known as the “advertorial.” The ad was published in 1625 in the Imperial Intelligencer, a news publication of the time.

The emergence of this print advertisement marked a significant moment in the history of advertising because it represented the transition from traditional oral and public notice advertising methods to a more formalized and scalable approach using the printed word.

With the invention and spread of the movable-type printing press by Johannes Gutenberg in the mid-15th century, printing materials became more efficient, leading to the proliferation of books, pamphlets, and newspapers.

This development allowed businesses and individuals to reach a broader audience. Advertisements could be mass-produced and distributed widely, meaning messages about products, services, or events could reach people not near the advertiser. This increased the potential market for goods and services and laid the groundwork for expanding the advertising industry.

While the content and design of the first print advertisement were rudimentary by today’s standards, it set the stage for the evolution of advertising techniques. Over time, advertisements would grow more sophisticated, incorporating persuasive language, eye-catching designs, and later, photography and other visual elements to attract and retain the attention of potential customers.

The significance of the first print advertisement lies not only in its novelty but also in the way it paved the way for the commercialization of the print media and the eventual development of modern advertising practices. It demonstrated the power of print to disseminate information widely and marked the beginning of the use of media as a platform for marketing.

The Why: Significance of Advertising in Publishing

Advertising has been pivotal in shaping the publishing industry over the years. As publishing platforms evolved from print to digital, the advertising strategies integrated with them also transformed. Understanding this evolution helps us appreciate how intertwined publishing and advertising have become.

In the early days of print, advertising revenues were crucial for funding the printing and distributing newspapers and magazines. As radio and television emerged, advertising dollars followed, helping sustain these new publishing mediums. More recently, with the shift to digital publishing, native advertising and targeted ads based on user data have become dominant models.

Innovations in advertising approaches have facilitated the growth of publishing platforms at each step. Consumer willingness to view ads in exchange for free or subsidized content access continues to support the financial viability of publishers.

Some standout case studies of impactful advertiser-publisher collaborations include:

  • The New York Timesnative ad partnership with Netflix to promote the series Orange is the New Black. This campaign generated significant reader engagement and social shares.
  • BuzzFeed‘s sponsored content for Purina features cute animals alongside lifestyle tips. This clicked with BuzzFeed’s core millennial audience.
  • The Washington Post‘s brand studio supports the sales goals of several Fortune 500 advertisers. This significantly boosted the Post’s digital ad revenues.

Such initiatives show how publishers can work creatively with brands via advertising as a revenue driver. When done right, it’s a win-win.

Even today, advertising remains vital to funding journalism and content creation. Though consumers are also paying for more digital subscriptions, display ads, video ads, and sponsored content still drive the profitability of most publishers.

Without advertising, consumers would have to pay much higher prices to access the news, entertainment, and information publishers provide. In that sense, advertisers play an indirect role in keeping publishing widely accessible and affordable.

Looking ahead, advertising revenues will likely continue buoying the publishing ecosystem. Publishers must balance serving consumers vs. advertisers, but their fates remain tightly interlinked.

The Future: What Lies Ahead for Advertising

The future of advertising promises exciting innovations that will transform strategies and deliver new levels of precision and impact. As digital media expands its reach and influence, advertisers have an unprecedented opportunity to leverage data and technology to connect with audiences.

Several key trends are shaping the future of advertising:

  • Personalization – Using consumer data and AI, ads can be highly customized to match individuals’ interests and needs.
  • Interactive content – Instead of passive ad consumption, interactive ads allow consumers to immerse themselves in branded experiences.
  • Video advertising – Short, engaging ads delivered on social media and streaming platforms are gaining significant traction.
  • Influencer marketing – Partnering with influencers allows brands to tap into their loyal followers.

The Influence of Digital Media

Digital channels account for over half of global ad spending, as social media, streaming, and mobile platforms provide direct access to specialized audiences. Location-based targeting through smartphones enables hyperlocal advertising. And as digital assistants and connected devices become widespread, they introduce new audio and conversational ad formats.

Predictions for Advertising Evolution

Looking ahead, advertising will likely evolve in the following ways:

  1. Ads could become more integrated into content experiences rather than interruptions.
  2. Creativity and emotion will be emphasized more to drive engagement.
  3. As privacy regulations increase, first-party data will become more critical.
  4. New technologies like AR/VR may open up immersive branded worlds.
  5. Automation will optimize campaigns, but human creativity remains vital.

While specifics are hard to predict, the customer experience will be central as advertising strives to inform, entertain, and delight amidst rapid change.

How Advertisers Make Money

Advertisers rely on a variety of revenue sources to fund their advertising campaigns and turn a profit. The main ways advertisers make money include:

Advertising Fees

The most direct source of revenue comes from the fees advertisers charge companies to create and run advertising campaigns. Rates are typically based on factors like the size of the audience reached the number of ad impressions, and the type of advertising format (TV commercials tend to be more expensive than online ads, for example).

Performance-based Pricing

Many online ads are priced on a pay-per-click or pay-per-conversion model, where advertisers only pay when a user clicks on an ad or completes a desired action like making a purchase. This performance-based pricing shifts some financial risk from the business purchasing ads to the advertising agency.

Data Monetization

Advertisers’ data on consumer behavior, demographics, interests, and more has significant value. Advertisers may directly sell or use this data to enable targeted ad campaigns. As digital technology advances, data monetization is becoming an increasingly important revenue stream for advertisers.

Product Placements and Sponsorships

Brands may also make money through product placements and sponsorships. This involves integrating a brand’s products or logo into TV shows, movies, or other forms of media. In return, the brand pays a fee to have its product prominently featured, reaching a large and captive audience.

Affiliate Marketing

Affiliate marketing allows advertisers to earn a commission by promoting someone else’s products or services. Advertisers can place unique affiliate links in their ads, and when a user clicks on the link and makes a purchase, the advertiser earns a commission.

Partnerships and Collaborations

Advertisers can also generate revenue through partnerships and collaborations with other brands. By joining forces, brands can reach new audiences and create innovative advertising campaigns that capture attention and drive sales.

In-app Purchases and Freemium Models

Some advertisers, particularly in the mobile gaming industry, rely on in-app purchases or freemium models to generate revenue. Users can download an app for free but have the option to make in-app purchases to enhance their experience or unlock additional features.

History of advertising

Advertisers make money through advertising fees, performance-based pricing, data monetization, product placements and sponsorships, affiliate marketing, partnerships and collaborations, and in-app purchases. Advertisers must adapt and explore new revenue streams as technology evolves to stay profitable in the ever-changing advertising landscape.


The history of advertising is a fascinating journey that mirrors society’s and technology’s evolution. From ancient pictorial signs to today’s data-driven digital platforms, advertising has continually adapted to reach audiences effectively. The symbiotic relationship between advertising and publishing has shaped both industries, with advertising revenues supporting the dissemination of information and content creation.

As we look to the future, it’s clear that advertising will continue to evolve. Personalization, interactivity, and immersive experiences are set to define the next wave of advertising, with emerging technologies offering new opportunities for brands to engage with consumers. However, the core principles of creativity, emotion, and delivering value remain unchanged.

Advertisers must navigate the complexities of an increasingly digital world, balancing innovation with privacy concerns and consumer preferences. The challenge will be responsibly harnessing new technologies and data while crafting compelling narratives that resonate with audiences across diverse platforms.

Ultimately, the rich history of advertising shows us that change is constant. Still, connecting with people—whether through a town crier’s call or a sophisticated online campaign—remains the heart of successful advertising. As we move forward, the industry must continue to adapt, innovate, and maintain the trust and interest of the consumers they aim to serve.

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