The History of Print Advertising

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Print advertising was the first type of targeted mass media advertising. From the first print ad that appeared thousands of years ago to the modern sleek digital print ads, they have been a veritable tool for effective mass advertising. They offer unique advantages including: cost effectiveness, high engagement, longevity, and pass-along exposure. In this post, we’ll be looking at how print ads have evolved and some of the major ways they have been used in the last few hundred years.

Direct Mail Marketing

The earliest known concept of direct mail marketing occurred in ancient Egypt at 1000 B.C. Based on evidence found by British anthropologists, a wealthy landowner printed an ad on a papyrus sheet. He offered a reward of gold for anyone who found his missing slave. The piece of papyrus was discovered in Thebes and it has been preserved in the British Museum. 

First Modern Print Ad

The first print ad in England was published by William Caxton in the late 1400s. Caxton brought the first commercial printing press to England after Johann Gutenberg invented the printing press in Germany. Caxton was the first English retailer of printed books. He was also the first to promote a book with a printed advert.  William Caxton was well-known for printing flyers or pamphlets. In 1480, he used his pamphlets to ask the public to order books from his printing press in Westminster Abbey. This was the precursor to modern direct mail marketing.

Emergence of Newspaper Ads

One of the earliest British newspaper ads appeared in 1609; it was for migration opportunities to America. At that time, England’s prosperous economy led to the importation of goods from Asia. So adverts promoting items like Persian rugs, Indian spices and Chinese porcelain became popular. Print ads in form of handbills were used frequently to promote imported goods. They had long text descriptions aimed at helping the reader to understand the origin or use of the products. 

During the Industrial Revolution, newspapers were the most influential source of national, regional and local news. According to this infographic on history of print, the emergence of mass production methods enabled companies like the The London Times to produce up to 1100 impressions in a minute. Consequently, the demand for newspaper ads exploded. 

Ads in Colonial America

The Boston Newsletter was the first to publish a newspaper ad in the Colonial era in U.S. in 1704. The ad was for the sale of real estate in Oyster Bay, Long Island in modern day New York. Pennsylvania was one of the first places where newspaper ads were used extensively during this period. First, in 1729, Benjamin Franklin, a renowned scientists and publisher set up the Pennsylvania Gazette with pages containing ads. At the turn of that century, Daily Advertiser and Pennsylvania Packet hit the streets as daily newspapers.

Newspaper Expansion

In the 19th century, newspaper production expanded and this increased the demand for print advertising. Within 4 years after Benjamin Day founded the Sun newspaper in 1833, it had a daily circulation volume of 30,000.  Subsequently, print advertising agents started helping big companies to design and place ads in newspapers. Companies like Proctor and Gamble were spending as much as $11,000 on print ads for its Ivory soap by the end of the 19th century. 

Consumer Product Ads

Promotion of consumer products was the driving force behind print advertising in the early 1900s. W.K. Kelloggs published ads in up to 6 newspapers in 1906. Nine years later, his company had an advertising budget of over $1 million.  In 1936, Life magazine became the first publication to earn $100 annually from ads. However, the emergence of radio and television introduced an alternative mass media platform for corporate ads in the U.S. in the early 1940s. 

The Digital Age

Print ads are still relevant in the digital age. Their tactile nature makes them more valuable and engaging than internet or TV ads. Many people who will not spend a second to look at an ad on the internet will take time to read a well printed flyer. Also, modern digital printing and imaging technology has made it possible to place massive print ads on buses, cars, sidewalks, buildings and airplanes. 

Print advertising continues to grow in influence despite the use of other mass media like the internet, TV and radio. The use of QR codes and other forms of digital technologies are set to make personalized print ads even more popular in the years to come.