Musings on Modern Marketing

Category: History of H2H (page 1 of 1)

How Marketing Got Personal

During the early 20th century—especially in the decades of the twenties and thirties, marketing turned to offering solutions and advice for problems that evolved in modernity.  In the first decade of the 20th century, for example, AT&T tried to convince its readers that “the constant endeavor of the associated Bell companies…is to give you the best and most economical management human ingenuity can devise.” The PR team was suggesting that the sole mission of AT&T was to make the consumer’s life easier. AT&T, at that point, held a purposeful “bias towards utilitarianism,” as Roland Marchand suggests in Creating the Corporate Soul. However, a company which had picked up the noble challenge of serving as a nation’s communications lifeline needed to align itself with the civic good and listen to its customer base—both male and female. Therefore, in a turning point for marketing and advertising, Marchand suggests that by 1911 through the 1920s, marketing by companies like AT&T and others presented a “social tableaux” with the woman as an essential customer. The telephone, for example, became the essential device in a woman’s life to ensure that: mother was well, the children were being released from school because of a snowstorm, and the husband was not bringing the boss for dinner. In the ad, “Man, Get her a Bell Telephone,” originally published in December, 1911, Santa calls a husband and agitates his pain of, perhaps, not yet having a gift for his wife. He suggests installing a telephone because “it’ll make life much more pleasant for your wife and she’ll always have things ready on time.”[1]

This new marketer (who was typically an upper-middle class, highly educated male) could somehow relate to and connect with clients who not all looked like he did. With this solution-centered, human to human, and more segmented technique, marketing pinpointed the anxieties of the modern consumer and began a more personal approach towards helping consumers negotiate those anxieties—turning a corner towards the marketing of the mid-20th century.

In the 1950s, when computers arrived, even they were announced through direct marketing. Lester Wunderman, the father of direct marketing and innovator in direct marketing projects for the financial services industry, coined the term “Direct Marketing” in a 1961 presentation to New York’s Hundred Million Club. Members of the club were engrained mail-order marketers who understood that there had to be more efficient ways to reach their potential customers. Acknowledging the mail-order model’s limitations, Wunderman expressed the greater savvy behind direct marketing: “a new and more efficient method of selling, based on scientific advertising principles and serviced by increasingly more automated warehousing, shipping and collection techniques.”[2] 

Today, one may say that direct marketing is any sales communication that generates, fosters, or depends on a direct relationship with a customer.

Although it did not catch on immediately, the term: direct marketing went “viral” after Wunderman’s next talk at MIT in 1967. By the 1970s, direct marketing was enlivened by the impressively developing color in computer graphic design, with eye-catching headlines and illustrations capturing the attention and imagination of consumers.

[1] Pittsburgh Gazette Times, Dec. 13, 1911, Man, Get her a Bell telephone

[2] "Direct Marketing (Re)Defined," MarketerGizmo, accessed March 12, 2017, http://www.marketergizmo.com/direct-marketing-redefined/.

Watterson’s Southern Lexicon

In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the written word gripped attention and wedged itself into the fault lines of powerful economic and political debate among Americans (in new and more concentrated ways from the days of marketing the American Revolution to colonists). Henry (Marse) Watterson, the foremost opinion-shaper of the post-Civil War South, stepping into the breach between personal and commercial journalist, used his understanding of international influence on regional events to shape Southern discourse and politics, manipulating his readership to favor free trade and what has now become known as globalization. Bell Telephone Company and its subsequent iterations acted as opinion shapers through aggressive advertisements and timely re-imagining of the Bell brand during a period when the company was desperate to maintain its dominance in the market. The company pivoted from serving an audience of elite captains of industry to an inclusive populist vision.

Historian Daniel S. Margolies, identifies Henry Watterson (editor of the Louisville Courier-Journal from the 1860s through WWI and proponent of free trade, globalization, and sectional reconciliation) as one of the most significant journalistic voices in American history.  A strident but effective self-marketer, Watterson used the written word to sway public opinion towards his particular “post-Civil War development.”[1] While fomenting “economic modernization and industrialization, a strong union with sectional equality, and social tranquility free of radicalism from both the left and the right, [Watterson and his aligned New South editors] created a vital connection between the reading public and the policy elites, giving a national voice to southern concerns.”[2] Watterson demonstrates the significance of a newspaper editor’s role in the interpretation of regional versus international significance of events. The popularity of Watterson’s writing and persona illustrates how a familiar face and reputable name can create a brand, complete with accompanying fans.

Watterson tried to “reshape southern politics and economy within a strong national union” and through an irrepressible written voice.  He adopted the title of “Marse” (Master) and used it in his own autobiography Marse Henry as a way to exploit the southern, “bon vivant” archetype through which the national press continually depicted him: “playing cards, smoking tobacco, playing the banjo, brandishing pistols…cutting shady backroom political deals.”[3] This caricature catapulted Watterson to celebrity status and “allowed him a certain freedom…in the political arena” from which others could not have profited. In 1908, one journalist wrote of Watterson that for thirty years he had been “the most widely quoted newspaper writer of the country.”[4]

Henry Watterson knew how to play to his audience, so he would write in a style which became known as “southern journalism,” putting a heavy emphasis on southern nationalism and encouraging southern ideals. “He framed the practical benefits of his ideas on all political and economic matters for a descending list of preferred constituencies: Kentuckians, southerners, Democrats, and Americans.”[5] However, whereas southern editors built themselves two sets of vocabulary to use in their publications—one for southerners and one for northerners—Watterson had one vocabulary that united southern and national interests with international affairs.  “He distilled his three major goals into an evocative holy trinity of southern freedom and national glory: ‘Home Rule, Free Trade, and Sound Money.’”[6] His global perspective on regional affairs “captured the seamless connections he made between domestic and foreign affairs.”[7]

Watterson’s lack of a split vocabulary indicates that he understood the importance of segmentation, where the one attempting to influence public opinion identifies a target market, determines the likelihood that potential customers outside that market would buy his product, and then proportionally focuses his efforts directly on the primary target.  Watterson was not necessarily aiming to develop a readership in the North, therefore he only wrote with the intention of moving the southern voter base. It just so happens that Watterson’s polemical writing was appreciated by both North and South. “There hasn’t been a day in forty years when ‘Marse Henry’ could not wire a signed editorial to any representative newspaper in the country and have it appear on the front page…The New York Herald even ran a column called Wattersonia, which was simply a collection of particularly trenchant quotes from him on a variety of subjects.”[8] The fact that Watterson segmented his audience does not mean that he did not have to sell and persuade that audience, which, in the nineteenth century, was often not as enthusiastic about free trade as he was.

One of the major concerns of the day for the South was the push for free silver. Free-silver proponents worked to sway public opinion towards unlimited coinage of silver to create a more malleable and forgiving monetary supply that proponents believed would lead to greater economic egalitarianism and, in the process, help the nation’s farmers. Farmers (like those in the Cotton Belts of the South) proposed that money be inflated to help them access easier credit and elevate crop price. Watterson, however, decided to vehemently express a view unique to the South, by railing against free silver in order to help elect William McKinley as president—an odd choice for a free trade advocate, but better, thought Watterson, than free silver proponent, William Jennings Bryan whom Watterson was sure would topple the national economy.  “The top-loftical, high-falutin, free-silverites…We consider the whole riff-raff of them a lot of crazy children astride a spavined, broken-winded, wooden jackass.”[9]

Watterson was evidently confident in his ability to manipulate southern opinion away from McKinley’s protectionism (tariffs) and back towards free trade.   As a free trader, Watterson believed that the future of the South was bound up in the global interaction of free trade. He wrote with a unique view point for the late nineteenth century—linking the events of Europe or Asia with the economic prosperity and future security of the South. In that spirit, Watterson used his columns to exploit any opening in President McKinley’s slow experimentation towards creating a “system of world market expansion”[10] during 1898-1901. Although the McKinley administration tested ideas like: “colonies in a scattered island empire, closed trading systems, or managed free trade,”[11] Watterson saw the answers to both the South’s and the Nation’s prosperity in “the uniform application of the free trade and home rule ideas.”[12] Watterson’s energetic prose sought to persuade the southern voters that “Free Trade would enlarge our markets by a system of international exchange and barter…which Protection has driven off, and give us an equal showing in all the neutral markets.”[13]

Although Watterson relied on pompous language and grandstanding like that which he utilized to sway public opinion against free silver, he always returned to the concerns of southern nationalism—framing his argument from the southern, regional perspective.  This unique style earned Watterson the label of “the last of the personal journalists”[14] at a time when commercial journalism was on the rise. Watterson’s focus on the issues pertinent to his regional group encouraged the development of what one might call an “echo-chamber.” The members of such a group re-circulate their leader’s message until it becomes their message.

Though Watterson knew his readership was interested in local affairs, he maintained a solid focus on international affairs and their effects on local events, developing for himself a unique place in the newspaper’s readership. So, when a trade agreement or treaty was signed internationally, for example, Watterson would ask and respond to how it affects the South. Understanding that rhetoric is so much more persuasive when one’s target audience actually wants to be persuaded by the speaker’s platform was a powerful engine for Watterson. He made people believe that he was their mouthpiece. From his position of authority and with his dedicated reader base, Watterson created a new lexicon of southern prosperity.

[1] Daniel S. Margolies, Henry Watterson and the New South: the politics of empire, free trade, and globalization (Louisville, KY: Univ. Press of Kentucky, 2006), 8.

[2] Ibid p. 8

[3] Ibid p. 6

[4] Ibid p. 2

[5] Ibid p. 10

[6] Ibid p. 12

[7] Ibid p. 12

[8] Ibid p. 2

[9] Ibid p. 63

[10] Ibid p. 110

[11] Ibid p. 10

[12] Ibid p. 110

[13] Ibid p. 110

[14] Ibid p. 8

Marketing In The Post-Printing Press Era

Direct Marketing after the Rise of the Printing Press

Leaping forward approximately 275 years, on April 11, 1744, Benjamin Franklin fashioned the lucrative marketing vehicle known as the mail order catalogue, and propelled the 250 year evolution of direct marketing. Through his A Catalog of Choice and Valuable Books,[1]

Franklin sold books and other wares, bringing vitality to his position in 1775 as first postmaster general of the united colonies.  Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanack, which began publication and dissemination on December 28, 1732 and continued for 25 years, has been recognized by the Direct Marketing Association as the first in-house publication.

Although built to promote his printing business, the Almanack offered an information hungry populace both valuable content and entertainment—leading to sales of “as many as 10,000 copies a year, making it a bestseller of its day.”[2]  In fact, Franklin made sure his public remained hungry for information by placing his own magazine into the mailing list for every home in Pennsylvania.

As one would then expect, The Pennsylvania Gazette, a newspaper purchased by Franklin in 1729, “saw a boost in its circulation in 1737, when Franklin was appointed Postmaster of Philadelphia.”[3] Apparently, Franklin included The Pennsylvania Gazette in mail routes “to be delivered with regular mail gaining a wider audience as well as increasing demand for paid advertising space.”[4]

Franklin kept his book-selling business booming by listing hundreds of the first and second hand titles he had for sale in the pages of the Gazette—but always in a marketing-savvy way. Never allowing the list to become boring to pore over, he juxtaposed unexpected titles such as:  Paradise Lost, Arraignment of lewd Women, Art of Money-Catching, Telemachus. Truly a man ahead of his time, Franklin might have enjoyed knowing the catch phrase of one today’s digital marketing giants: “We believe the biggest marketing sin is being boring.”[5] By the mid-1730s, the Pennsylvania Gazette was the most popular newspaper in the colony.[6]

One can hardly discuss pre-revolutionary war direct marketers without noting Samuel Adams’ talent for disseminating copy damning the abusive control of England over the colonists. Adams’ ardent editorials were published in Boston newspapers, making their way into the living rooms of a preponderance of homes.

In a clever, albeit not altogether transparent marketing move, Adams signed his editorials in both “his own name and in 11 other pseudonyms, to create the illusion that more people supported independence than opposed it.”[7] The purpose of Adams’ marketing was to pivot the colonists from seeing themselves as English subjects to believing themselves to be Americans.

In the clearest attempt at direct marketing for a cause, Adams took to the streets of Boston “six days each week, speaking face-to-face with anyone who would listen about the English crown’s wrongdoings.”[8] Engaging his audience directly about unfair taxation and abusive acts, Adams understood, was the most powerful and efficacious way to promote revolution.

When we think, today, about what it is that makes the best direct marketing successful, it is not only the fact that one is reaching a potential customer each time a marketing Email is opened, it is also the crafting of phrases or subject lines that grab the audience. “We must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately,” warned Franklin. “Give me liberty or give me death,” proclaimed Thomas Paine in his wildly popular pamphlet, Common Sense, (January 1776), arguing persuasively and passionately for why independence was necessary and sensible.  

“Join or Die,” wrote Franklin, in the wood-cut engraving of a snake in eight pieces that was published in the Pennsylvania Gazette (1754) as the first political branding graphic demonstrating an eternal truth of marketing: that a powerful graphic can make your product legendary. In moments, colonists understood that uniting would be the only way to attain freedom and wholeness. The image helped spur on a movement. Today, when we think of Apple, Coca-Cola, or Facebook, we remember the logo or image associated with each.

For much of the next hundred years, advertising and direct marketing did not advance very far. It was not until the late 19th century that major changes came to light. The 1880s saw the expansion of direct advertisement as manufacturing techniques developed efficaciously—increasing output and decreasing cost of consumer goods production. Bringing the goods to a wider audience became the job of railroad networks, and with the piqued interest of an amalgam of curious consumers with cash to spend, advertising agencies grew up to shape and capitalize on the  of direct marketing.

Now, with the increased circulation of magazine and newspapers, advertisements reached customers directly through these publications. The more money marketers made from the sale of magazine ad space, the more money was available for creating further publications of interest to the expanded audience at the end of the next railroad track.

Mail-order shopping of consumer goods entered a period of growth in the 1880s, when mail-order houses began to fiercely compete with local stores. Their marketing contest centered on three major issues—price, inventory, and assurances—the very factors that made mail-order houses successful.

Considered the first cataloguer of consumer goods, Aaron Montgomery Ward began his business with a one page catalogue marketed directly to consumers in 1872. Shortly thereafter, Richard Warren Sears followed, sending out his first direct mail flyers during the 1880s. Consumers were no longer shackled to the limited goods available at the local store. In fact, people no longer had to pay the higher prices of small town stores either just because suppliers’ large volume discounts were not available to small town vendors. Operating nationally through the postal services gave Sears the ability to undersell local store rivals through economy of scale.[9] Direct mail catalogs made “consumer choice” available and powerful. Consumers now had access to variety, volume, and lower pricing, regardless of where they called home.

In the 1890s, “Sears was able to sell high quality treadle sewing machines for between fifteen to twenty dollars, far less than the forty to sixty dollars that retail dealers charged for equivalent models.” Sears could offer such value because, unlike the local store, it sold thousands of sewing machines each week. Of course, there was a certain degree of faith required to order from a catalogue when it was far easier to return shoddy merchandise to the local store. Both Montgomery Ward and Sears offered potent promises: Montgomery Ward was among the first to offer a money-back guarantee, and Sears-Roebuck promised "satisfaction guaranteed or your money back”—a lasting marketing and ethical business commitment among many businesses to this day.[10]

Among the most successful catalogers of the early 20th century was Leon Leonwood Bean, who propelled L. L. Bean of Maine to success in 1913 when he mailed his first flyer advertising his Maine hunting boots. Bean used targeting to mail his flyers solely to consumers with hunting licenses. The purpose of the cataloguers’ thoughtful marketing technique was the same as the purpose of direct marketing through mail or Email today: to seamlessly connect the advertising message for one’s product to a prospective and targeted audience in order to receive on the spot or subsequent action. As Jim Kobs writes in Profitable Direct Marketing, “Direct marketing is really the straightest line between you—the advertiser—and the action you want those who receive your message to take.”


[1] Benjamin Franklin and Carl Van Doren, A catalogue of choice and valuable books: consisting of near 600 volumes in most faculties and sciences, viz. Divinity, history, law, mathematics, philosophy, physic, poetry, & c (Philadelphia: Meriden Gravure Company, 1948).

[2] "Pennsylvania Gazette," Benjamin Franklin History, accessed January 19, 2017, http://www.benjamin-franklin-history.org/pennsylvania-gazette/.

[3] Ibid

[4] Ibid

[5] DigitalMarketer, "We Believe," advertisement, We Believe, February 10, 2016, accessed January 13, 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bvlf0Wg37N4.

[6] "Pennsylvania Gazette," Benjamin Franklin History; J. A. Leo Lemay, The life of Benjamin Franklin, volume 2: printer and publisher, 1730-1747 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005

[7] Samantha Berkhead, "Four Revolutionary Lessons the American Revolution Can Teach Us About Online Marketing," HubShout, February 20, 2015, , accessed February 19, 2017, http://hubshout.com/?Four-Revolutionary-Lessons-the-American-Revolution-Can-Teach-Us-About-Online-Marketing&AID=1622.

[8] Ibid

[9] Economies of scale" refers to economic efficiency that results from carrying out a process (such as production or sales) on a larger and larger scale. The resulting economic efficiencies are usually measured in terms of the costs incurred as the scale of the relevant operation increases

[10] "Sears Roebuck and their Sewing Machines," International Sewing Machine Collectors Society, accessed February 05, 2017, http://ismacs.net/sears/sears.html.

To talk about the new, Look to the Old

From papyrus to clay tablets to the Gutenberg printing press to seed catalogs to persuasive conversations at taverns and street corners to the internet’s first Email in 1971, marketing vehicles have existed with the imperative to communicate something of value for an audience and to use human to human trust and storytelling in order to sell that product of value.

With the exception of one lengthy academic work on Spam, there is no unified scholarship on this area of contemporary history: the common thread which pervades human to human communication in direct marketing. There is, however, a plethora of inaccurate information about early spam and spammers dispersed across multiple sources, published both online and in print—many of those inaccuracies perpetrated by the spammers themselves. This thesis does its best to rectify both of the aforementioned concerns, drawing upon a compilation of personally conducted interviews, print sources, and webpages devoted to the curation of the history of the early internet.

 There was not one “aha” moment when direct marketing was born; no moment when an industry was formed out of chaos. The concept of distributing novel products, monetary reward, or even persuasive political jargon that moved the tide of revolutions in history evolved as direct marketing alongside the development of civilization.

 Whereas the channels for direct marketing have clearly changed through the years, and evolution of innovation can bring abuses (like spam), the purpose of direct marketing—communication of value, engaged through a human to human process[1]—remains the same. No matter how consumers use technology in the future, marketers will be aligning their communication efforts with that behavior. In the pursuit of sharing products that can change a life or simply make one easier, direct marketing had already spent upwards of $153.3 billion by 2010… which accounted for 54.2% of all ad expenditures in the United States…these advertising expenditures generated approximately $1.798 trillion in incremental sales.”[2] According to Michael Brenner, direct content marketing will generate $300 billion by 2019.[3]  Direct marketing is about human to human communication; it began that way—personal, interactive, and value-oriented. Understanding the evolution of the benefits and tactics involved in direct marketing as well as its growing pains crystallizes the impact such outreach has had on civilization and provides a lens through which to understand the future of marketing-consumer behavior.

We cannot view direct marketing and spam in a vacuum. It is not that some advertiser came up with direct mail spam when the internet exploded. The kernels, psychology, and understanding of a need to communicate in order to sell one’s products existed long before networked computers. It was, however, the advent of cross-network computing that enabled what we now call spam, and which has been leveraged by modern marketers to deliver their sales messages directly to people who want to receive them. This survey seeks to demonstrate the evolution of digital sales techniques, starting with their humble analog origins, and ending with the demise of “big spam” in the early 2000s.

The more things change the more they stay the same, and one need only visit the British Museum to note how this concept applies to direct mail marketing: there, on a papyrus dating back to 1,000 BCE, a landowner advertised a hefty gold reward for the return of his escaped slave. Although the address of origin is foggy, the papyrus turned up in Thebes, Egypt before being placed behind glass in London.

There is no record as to whether this landowner was actually successful in his marketing endeavor, making the endeavor inherently different from most direct marketing attempts that we know of today because those who market directly are usually able to quantify the response to their offer. However, the concept of direct marketing via papyrus is not so different from modern marketing tactics.

The merchants of Babylonia were no strangers to direct marketing either according to the stories their brick and stone tablets tell. Apparently, merchants inscribed a list of their products on tablets and hand-delivered them to the interested people of each town through which they passed—not as tidy or labor-savvy as clicking SEND, but inventive, nonetheless, and, without question, direct marketing. It is also recorded in A History of Advertising that during the first century C.E., poets “disperse[d] prospectuses”[4] in an effort to glean clients. As writing was considered a scholarly endeavor, such direct marketing pieces were seriously regarded. Although today the printed word arriving in one’s Email box or at one’s doorstep is a common occurrence, the perceived value of direct mail is still a powerful motivator to action.

With the appearance of the Gutenberg printing press in 1440, direct marketing emerged in Europe. By 1480, a printer by the name of William Caxton established the first printing press in England at Westminster Abbey, and proceeded to engage in the production of hand-bills or advertising leaflets. Direct marketing was off and running. Merchants routinely utilized flyers to hand out or post on walls—an effective advertisement for both their wares and their guilds. The symbols of the merchants’ guilds were always in plain sight on the advertisements so as to credentialize the merchant.

[1] Here, value means the ultimate effect of the advertised product, and “human to human” refers to a marketing philosophy which treats potential customers like new contacts. In a human to human process, advertisers create customer journeys meant to build trust and cultivate genuine relationships between brand and consumer.

[2] The Power of Direct Marketing: ROI, Sales, Expenditures, and Employment in the US (New York, NY: Direct Marketing Association, Inc., 2009).

[3] Michael Brenner and Liz Bedor, The content formula: calculate the ROI of content marketing & never waste money again (West Chester, PA: Marketing Insider Group, 2015).

[4] Stéphane Pincas and Marc Loiseau, A history of advertising (Köln: Taschen, 2008).