Life Before and After Brands
Once upon a time brands didn’t exist. There was no need for advertising. Most people couldn’t read anyway.
Word of mouth was all anyone had. It was all that mattered.
Then along came paper, the printing press, literacy, newspapers, magazines, billboards, the Industrial Revolution, mail delivery, radio, television, the internet, the Web, cell phones, Steve Jobs and social media.
Fast forward to the 21st century. Companies battle for our attention in one medium after another. Advertising is ubiquitous. Brands, trying to keep their messages fresh reinvent themselves over and over again. Competitors are everywhere. The customer has all the power, and they don’t like being sold to. Many companies are finally figuring out people want interaction not sales pitches. That interaction gets people talking and posting and tweeting and sharing.
Word of mouth is all that matters.
Prepare yourself for a time machine look at why it took us so long to figure out what was obvious to our ancestors before they knew how to read.
- 150 A.D.: The Chinese invent something called paper. It was used to wrap things.
- 1440-ish: Johannes Guttenberg invents the printing press, otherwise known as ground zero of mass media.
- 1650: The first newspaper ad appears. It offers a reward for 12 stolen horses.
- 1704: The Boston News-Letter asks readers to place ads for real estate, ships or goods for sale.
- 1844: The first magazine ad appears.
- 1867: The first billboard ads appear.
- 1880s: Publications are choked with ads making exaggerated claims. Advertising is already out of control.
- 1890s: Mail delivery becomes commonplace. The Sears Roebuck & Co. catalog debuts and begins to land in mailboxes.
- The Industrial Revolution hits around 1900, giving rise to mass production of even more stuff that needs advertising. Consumers have so many choices that manufacturers have to find new ways to differentiate their products. Branding is born.
- 1902: Unilever hires J. Walter Thompson Co. (JWT) to advertise its Lifebuoy soap. This starts the longest client- agency relationship in advertising history.
- 1904: Advertisers discover the value of campaigns. Companies finance series of ads to tell their product stories.
- 1924: People are riveted to their radios. Along comes sponsored content when “The Eveready Hour” appears on radio.
- 1930: Colgate-Palmolive sponsors the radio show “Clair, Lu ‘n Em” to reach the stay-at-home housewife. The product it promotes is “Super Suds”. The “soap opera” is born.
- 1940s: Television begins to take over. Bulova Clock sponsors the first TV ad.
- 1950s: The era of the power of the big ad agencies. Leo Burnette Agency introduces The Marlboro Man campaign, making Marlboro the world’s bestselling cigarette brand.
- 1960s: Consumers rebel. The flower power counterculture wants individuality and trust in their advertising.
- 1963: The “Pepsi Generation” ignites the cola wars that will last more than a decade.
- 1968: 7-up enters the fray with its “The Uncola” theme.
- 1971: Coca-Cola airs its famous “Hilltop” commercial with a multicultural group singing on a hillside. Just like a song from the Beatles or Janis Joplin, people demand to hear the song on radio and TV.
- 1970s: Marketers start using ads to declare what brands stand for in order to shape how a brand is perceived in the minds of consumers. The brand image becomes life and death for companies.
- 1981: IBM introduces the personal computer. Everyone can be their own publisher.
- 1984: Apple shakes up the fledgling computer industry with its Super Bowl ad for the Mac. The fight for Super Bowl ad space is on.
- 1988: 50% of homes in the US are equipped with cable TV.
- 1990s: Marketers realize that advertising alone isn’t enough to drive sales. Consumers need to see brand images in multiple places – events, sales, PR, promotions and advertising. This integrated marketing presents a unified, customer-focused message.
- 1993: The internet has 5 million users.
- 1998: The Google and MSN search engines hit the internet.
- 2003: MySpace starts the social media revolution.
- 2007: Steve Jobs and Apple unleash the iPhone.
- 2007: Facebook is for more than just college students. Twitter is introduced.
- 2011: The internet hosts more than 1 trillion pages. That’s 417 pages for every person in the world.
- 2012: Companies desperate for attention turn to “native advertising,” or ads disguised as content.
- 2014: The explosion of popularity of YouTube, Instagram and Pinterest show how images are taking over the social space.
What Does This History Lesson Mean?
In a world crowded with choices, consumers have all the power. Consumers aren’t a captive audience. They choose where to spend their time because they have options everywhere.
If consumers don’t want to bother with an interruptive ad or marketing message, they search for what they want someplace else. Because of the connectivity of our world, what’s even more empowering to people (and frightening to businesses) is that they can take a lot of people with them.