A Brief History of Content Marketing
Content Marketing in a digital context is of course a modern phenomenon however the principles of content marketing, as described above, have been around for a surprisingly long time.
Perhaps the best-known example is the Michelin Guide; originally published in 1900, there were 35,000 copies of that first edition given away for free and it contained travel tips, car maintenance and accommodation recommendations, combining practical advice and suggestions that might be of interest to travellers.
Giving rise to the phrase ‘soap opera’, Proctor and Gamble famously broadcast a radio serial drama in 1933. Aimed at adult women, the drama incorporated marketing messages to encourage purchase of the sponsoring soap powder, Oxydol.
For the next fifty years or so, television advertising ruled supreme and content marketing took a back seat while organisations took more of a direct sales approach.
Kellog’s picked the reins back up with a narrative of cartoon animals designed to market their cereals to children and engender brand loyalty, before inspiring a whole host of companies to use TV adverts that sought to entertain their public with stories and amusing mishaps, rather than just showcasing the products themselves.
Notable examples include the Nescafe Gold Blend series of advertisements, starring Anthony Head and Sharon Maughan. Lasting for six years with a ‘will-they, won’t-they’ theme running through the 45-second spots, the adverts were shown over twelve instalments with a cliff-hanger at the end of each, to maintain the level of audience interest. The conclusion was finally revealed in 1993 to much media fanfare.
Similarly, Hamlet cigars enlisted celebrities to front their adverts which told of a man suffering a series of mishaps, all of which were forgotten about by the lighting of a Hamlet cigar. The particular excerpt of a Bach composition - perplexingly (in the twenty-first century) entitled Air on the G-String and performed as a jazz rendition by Jacques Loussier and his trio – became inseparable from the accompanying strapline, ‘Happiness is a cigar called Hamlet’, and was a much-loved advert from the eighties until the early nineties when tobacco advertising was banned in the UK.
The arrival of wide-spread computer use and the internet in the early noughties – along with the decrease in power of the traditional media such as newspapers - heralded a new dawn for content marketing as businesses moved increasingly to this model and was further propelled by the rise of social media networks, which made content marketing both shareable and instantaneous.
This has now become the norm for marketers in recognition of the powerful tool that content marketing is; in engaging and informing target audiences, as opposed to focusing on purely sales-driven activity, brands can build a loyal following who see them as an authority and trusts them and, by extension, the products and services they offer.