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People generally tend to think that advertising is a new development that started with the rise of the corporate world in marketing. But it, in fact, isn’t. Perhaps, it will suffice to say, more aptly, that modern advertising as we know it came about as a result of mass production, education, the boom of the telecommunications industry, and more recently through globalization fuelled by the internet.

However, advertising in truth has always existed for as long as there have been rivals doing business and competing for customer patronage in any setting throughout history – from medieval times right through the renaissance and down to the business world as we know it today. Whether it be actual monetary trade or bartering, there has been some form of advertising to drive marketing.

Advertising in ancient times

The Egyptians, for example, used papyrus to pass sales messages while relics of commercial messages and political campaign displays have been discovered in Pompeii’s ruins and parts of Arabia. In Pompeii, there were lost advertising material found in ancient Greece and Rome. Also, ancient works from ancient Chinese origin have been found, an example being that of candy makers playing a bamboo flute to attract customers. An advanced variant of such practice is still being used today as in ice cream vendor trucks and the likes.

The earliest print advertising methods have its origins from China. According to LaFleur, an advert for a Song dynasty (960-1279 CE) era needle company reads, “we buy high-quality steel rods and make fine quality needles that are ready for use at home in no time.” This might sound like something you could read in today’s ads, but it does not necessarily mean that the originator was a millennium ahead of his time, it only means that the idea of advertising is timeless. Take this needle into consideration more closely, and you will notice that right from history, human beings have always wanted quality stuff quickly and conveniently.

In ancient civilizations, outdoor advertising was common. Traders in Greece, Egypt, and Rome would inscribe advertisement notices prominently on conspicuous surfaces in busy city centers like the sides of buildings or large rocks where there was heavy foot traffic; a pre-historic version of popup banners, if you like. Later, Roman gladiators and Greek Olympians would then be commissioned to endorse products both inside and outside the battle arena. The tactic of being accosted by people trying to get you to purchase a service or buy a product didn’t start recently. The practice of beckoning on passers-by to get their attention by hollering or getting people to holler at potential customers was commonplace in the ancient world. 

The rise of printed ads

According to the Toronto Public Library, the earliest surviving printed ad in English was published in 1477 by William Caxton, a British merchant, diplomat, writer, and printer. By the early 17th century, printed advertising had started to become very common in Europe. Theophraste Renaudot started La Gazette, the very first French newspaper in 1631 and ran personal ads for businesses offering employment and people seeking same, ads for people who wanted to buy or sell goods, ads that announced services of every kind. By the middle of the 18th century, illustrations became the in thing. The age of advertising agents—people who illustrated adverts—was thus born.

Present-day ads

Technological advancements have since amped up the advertising industry (if it could be called that three centuries ago). Advertising has therefore since witnessed tremendous improvements (and stiffer competition) throughout recent history which has increased its invasiveness as well as reach. Not much has changed, though, in the actual practices, just the means of doing so. In fact, as LaFleur puts it, if you envision the internet as a physical location, not much has changed at all.”

Celebrities now endorse (or get paid to endorse) their favorite products or services on TV, online and on blogs akin to the gladiator and Olympian strategy in ancient Greece and ancient Rome; websites use pop-up ads all over the internet and offline; brands use billboards, pop up stands and fliers like the merchants in Greece, Egypt, and Rome during medieval times. There is also the advent of affiliate marketing where a party gets an agreed commission from each sale made from a referral. Email marketing (and it's albeit fast-fading practice of sending brochures and print newsletters) is also now a very effective—and no matter how annoying spamming is—method of advertising. Advertising has now become very sophisticated and consequently expensive. In 2011, the amount of money spent on advertising in the United States of America was pegged at about $143 billion, while $465 was spent across the entire planet.