Etched on a dusty curbstone amidst the ruins of the ancient Roman city of Pompeii, you’ll find an engraved penis, strategically carved to point the way to what, at the time, was one of the most popular brothels in the area. Guides will tell you it’s the ‘oldest advertisement in the world, for the oldest business in the world. While the truth of that claim is debatable, the phallic ad is certainly very old.
The Pompeii penis was buried by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, which destroyed the city on 24 August AD 79, but the true origins of marketing go back much further than that.
The changing face of advertising
Advertising can be intoxicating. The spin, the story, the message, the call to action, the image, the placement, the measurement, the refinement. It all adds up to a powerful cocktail that can ultimately change the world. At its core, advertising is all about influencing people – persuading them to take the actions we want, whether that is choosing a particular brand of toothpaste, picking up the phone, filling in a mailing coupon, or visiting a website. Done well, the power of advertising can achieve amazing things, and if you’re in business you’re already doing it, and will continue to do so.
Advertising through the ages
Advertising, an essential component in the marketing of any business, has been around for a long time. The Pompeii penis is positively modern compared to some of the advertising relics that archaeologists have unearthed in ancient Arabia, China, Egypt, Greece, and Rome. The Egyptians used papyrus to create posters and flyers, while lost-and-found advertising (also on papyrus, and often relating to ‘missing’ slaves) was common in both ancient Greece and Rome. Posters, signs, and flyers were widely employed in the ancient cities of Rome, Pompeii, and Carthage for public events such as circuses, games, and gladiatorial contests.
People have been trying to influence other people since the dawn of human existence, utilizing whatever means and media they had at their disposal at the time. The human voice and word of mouth, of course, came first. Then someone picked up a piece of stone and started etching images on a cave wall: enduring images that told stories, communicated ideas, and promoted certain ways of doing things.
The technology behind digital marketing
As we have already mentioned, developments in technology and the evolution of marketing are inextricably intertwined. Technology has underpinned major milestones in the history of marketing since its inception.
The first global communications network: ‘the highway of thought’
To understand the explosive growth of the internet we need to look back at how early communications technology evolved into the global network of interconnected computers that today we call the internet.
Tom Standage, in his book The Victorian Internet, looks at the wired telegraph and draws some astonishing parallels between the growth of the world’s first electronic communications network and the growth of the modern-day internet.
In August 1962 a computer scientist, Joseph Carl Robnett Licklider (1915– 1990), Vice President at technology company Bolt Beranek and Newman, wrote a series of memos discussing the concept of an ‘Intergalactic Computer Network’. Licklider’s revolutionary ideas, amazingly, encompassed practically everything that the internet has today become.
In 1971 Ray Tomlinson, an engineer working on ARPANET wrote the first program capable of sending mail from a user on one host computer to another user’s mailbox on another host computer. As an identifier to distinguish network mail from local mail Tomlinson decided to append the hostname of the user’s computer to their user login name.