Marketing is an occupation that is as old as humanity itself. In many ways, to engage in marketing is to be human. It is rooted in some of our most innate skills and qualities, – communication, self-expression, convincing, negotiating. While inseparable from our nature, this industry has been part of every major technological advancement that humanity made. Marketers are the first to adopt new tech, – from papyrus, to newspapers, to TV, to the Internet, – we are always trying out, experimenting with, hacking and harnessing innovations to reach people in new and more effective ways. It is this dance on the edge of art and science, the heart and the mind, intuition and technology, that has made marketing so fascinating and drew some of the brightest minds of each era to make it their focus and even profession.
The Ancient Origins of Marketing
Historians tell us that marketing in its early forms was pervasive in societies around the world since the dawn of humanity. It is truly one of the most ancient and universal professions. From the old ages when people started to exchange a chunk of wood for a piece of meat, people had to “promote” their wares and convince neighbors to barter with them instead of others in the tribe.
Archeologists find traces of visual marketing as early as in ancient Babylonia. In Egypt, papyrus posters adorned marketplaces and temples, captivating passersby with their vibrant illustrations and hieroglyphs. In old Rome, painted wall advertisements, known as “tavern paintings,” were a common element of the cityscape, calling onlookers with vivid depictions of stores, entertainment, or political campaigns. In China, flute players composed tunes and poetry to attract customers, thus bringing about the first sales jingles.
In fact, in every market, bazaar and trading post where merchants and buyers met, we find writings, paintings, sculpture, songs and other art used to attract customers and promote offerings. It would be difficult to find a society that hasn’t developed what we would intuitively recognize as marketing – traders and merchants came up with the common forms of advertising early on, and then all but refining them over time as technology changed.
Our Digital Present
As humanity evolved, marketers have eagerly absorbed every significant invention, making their industry synonymous with the digital revolution and the Internet – the two have been practically symbiotic since the first websites came online. As technology matured, advertising experiences became more targeted, sophisticated and immersive. Starting with enhanced print visuals in the newspapers and magazines, it moved to conversational stories on the radio, then to even more vivid video narratives on the television, even while direct mail and telemarketing were enhancing personalized outreach. Cable TV made possible niche audience targeting, a precursor to the 1990s, when the internet era introduced digital billboards and email campaigns. Shortly, search engines allowed an even more granular intent-based targeting.
As the Internet revolution gained speed, social media transformed ads from a one-way broadcast into interactive conversations between organizations and customers, and mobile devices made these exchanges immediate and always-on. By then, programmatic advertising has been leveraging AI for data-driven ad placement across the entire Internet.
Today, online advertising empowers millions of businesses, using tools from platforms such as Google, Facebook, TikTok and others. The abundance of user data such as demographics, personal interests and browsing behavior allows marketers who are good with people and are good with tech to build personalized messages and deliver them straight to their potential customers. The Internet has transformed into a multiverse of vibrant ecosystems of people, organizations and communities, allowing brands to forge direct connections with consumers.
Importantly, while big companies have undoubtedly benefited from the new tools, digital networks have made a disproportionate impact on small business, leveling the playing field between SMBs and industry giants. The Internet has even created a brand-new phenomenon of solopreneurs and one-person companies who work with their niche audiences at scale and use mobile tools to drive revenues that only large corporations could command in the past.
Marketing In Space – Interplanetary and Virtual
We live in an era when technological evolution once again turns a corner. As old paradigms go away and new ones appear, we see marketing on its usual forefront of innovation, leading most other industries. Marketers are as eager to jump on new tech platforms as they’ve always been, – now to virtual reality, artificial intelligence and distributed networks. Surely, the next few years will bring plenty of new “toys” for advertisers to pour their creativity into.
Virtual Reality is heralded as the next phase of the Internet? Well, marketers are already building entire branded realms that customers can immerse themselves into. AI is redefining what it means to create art? It is the advertising industry that has been the earliest adopter of machine creativity. Voice devices and virtual assistants are becoming part of home furniture? Chances are you can already ask your smart speaker to order your favorite brand for you. The recent boom of branded NFT in the blockchain space proves the same point.
When one day we colonize other planets, I, together with other marketers, will be right there with the first settlers exploring new space to communicate – just like our ancient colleagues used cave paintings to share and promote their goods and ideas when reaching new frontiers.