Advertising has come a long way since its inception. Nowadays, ads come in various forms, and the act of advertising has become a lot more creative and inventive. So how did advertising start? What were they using before the online ads that most businesses are utilizing today? Take a look at this brief timeline and history of ads, from print to digital!

Ancient Times (3000 BCE – 1400 AD)

In ancient civilizations such as Egypt, Greece, Rome, and Mesopotamia, early forms of advertising were rudimentary but effective. Merchants used simple signage, oral announcements, and town criers to attract customers to their goods and services. The very first written ad, however, was discovered in the ruins of Thebes in Egypt, believed to have been created in 3000 BC. It was in Papyrus, trying to find a runaway servant while also promoting the weaving shop of the owner.

From there, there have been inscriptions on walls, papyrus, and clay tablets that served as early forms of advertisements. These would showcase products, services, and offerings. Public announcements in marketplaces and gathering areas were common methods of advertising as well. This is where merchants would verbally promote their products to people passing by.

Printing Press Era (15th – 18th Century)

The invention of the printing press by German inventor and goldsmith Johannes Gutenberg in the 15th century was a major point in history. The printing press enabled mass printing and the production of reading materials like books, newspapers, or pamphlets, giving way to the printing press era. As a result, this revolutionized advertising by making it easier and more affordable to produce printed materials.

Handbills, posters, and broadsheets were used to advertise products, services, events, and even political campaigns.

In the United States, the first-ever newspaper, the Boston News-Letter, was published in 1704 by John Campbell. The proliferation of newspapers and magazines during this period provided additional platforms for advertising, allowing businesses to reach wider audiences.

Industrial Revolution (18th – 19th Century)

The Industrial Revolution brought about machines, mass production, urbanization, and increased consumerism. This led to significant developments in advertising and marked an interesting period in the history of ads. 

With the expansion of cities and the growth of transportation networks, outdoor advertising became prominent. Businesses were now using billboards, posters, and signage to attract customers.

The rise of department stores and mail-order catalogs provided new opportunities for advertising as well. Sears, an American chain of department stores, was the first ever company to focus on direct advertising with their first direct mail campaign in 1892. The campaign generated over two thousand new orders for the company. Other retailers were quick to follow this form of advertising and sought to promote their products to a growing middle class.

Radio Era (early 20th Century)

The invention and popularization of radio in the early 20th century transformed advertising once again. Companies began sponsoring radio programs and airing commercials to reach mass audiences and ultimately boost their exposure. The very first radio ad was aired in the United States, on August 22, 1922. The 15-minute radio advertisement was for a real estate company called Queensboro Corporation, promoting apartments in Jackson Heights, Queens.

Radio advertising featured catchy jingles, memorable slogans, personified ads, live reads, testimonials, sponsored content, and more. Slowly, it became an integral part of popular culture in this period.

Advertising agencies played a crucial role in creating and producing radio commercials in this century as well. They helped shape the style and tone of advertising during this period. This was then considered the “Golden Age of Radio”, reaching over 9 million households and consumers.

Television Era (mid-20th Century)

Of course, the radio era was quickly followed by the television era, making way for more developments in the history of ads. Television emerged as the dominant medium for advertising in the mid-20th century. Companies invested heavily in TV commercials to reach thousands of households across the country. In fact, the very first TV commercial in June 1941, which was a 10-second advertisement for the Bulova Watch Company, was seen by 4,000 people in New York, United States.

Television advertising allowed for visual storytelling and brand building, which created a lasting impact for the viewers. This led to the creation of iconic ad campaigns and memorable characters that resonated with audiences in this time period. This is because companies and advertisers want to connect with their target market. A good example of this would be Kellogg’s cartoon mascot, Tony the Tiger, being introduced in TV advertisements to promote their cereal products in the late 1950s.

Advertisers also started to target specific demographics by airing commercials during popular TV programs, such as soap operas, sitcoms, and specific sporting events.

Digital Age (late 20th Century – present)

The advent of the internet and digital spaces in the late 20th century revolutionized advertising once again. Now, there are new channels and spaces to advertise, such as websites, search engines, social media platforms, and email marketing.

Since the very first online ad was posted (a banner advertisement to a web page) in late 1994, online advertising has then opened up numerous opportunities for companies and advertisers. This is because it allows for precise targeting, interactive content, and real-time tracking of campaign performance. This modern way of advertising is a hundred times more different than what the world knew just a few decades ago.

Mobile advertising has also become increasingly important with the proliferation of smartphones and mobile apps. It offers new possibilities for location-based targeting and engagement. Nowadays, mobile channels account for 55.25% of sales, showing consumers’ growing preference for mobile-friendly advertising and mobile sites.

Future of Ads

So where is the history of ads going now as the world speeds into the future?

The future of advertising is likely to be shaped by advancements in technology that continue to gain traction every day. Technology such as artificial intelligence, augmented reality, virtual reality, and other digital technologies will shape advertising.

Personalization and customization will continue to be key trends. This is because advertisers strive to deliver relevant messages to individual consumers.

Short-form video content will also continue to dominate digital spaces. However, it can be expected that more and more people will prefer shorter video ads. Companies and advertisers will need to be creative when creating video content or investing in video ads. Along with video in advertising, video captions will also be prominent. This is because most users are now watching mobile videos without sound. This makes captions crucial and beneficial for video advertising.

Ethical considerations regarding data privacy and the impact of advertising on society will also play a significant role in shaping the future of the industry. After all, consumers are becoming more and more aware of their data and want to know how their data is being handled by companies and advertisers.

The history of ads holds a lot of significance, especially when thinking about how businesses and advertisers can prepare for the upcoming years.

Ready to face the modern world of advertising? Twin Rams Media Group can get you the help that you need! Talk to our experts today and find out what types of advertising and digital marketing strategies will work best for your business goals.






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