Content marketing – old but gold

Appearances are deceptive: even though the topic of content marketing has only recently arrived on the radar of most Swiss companies, it is far from being a new phenomenon. "Fokus" is about the form of marketing that was already widespread before it was officially invented.

by Smart Media Agency BE | July 16, 2021

The term marketing first appeared at the turn of the century – the one from the 19th to the 20th century. However, Benjamin Franklin, the founding father of the USA, was one of the first to use content marketing. In 1732 – more than 40 years before the birth of the United States of America – he began to publish the “Poor Richard’s Almanack” every year to promote his printing business. It contained a mixture of seasonal weather forecasts, practical household tips, puzzles and other entertainment – mixed with his infamous puns, aphorisms and proverbs, many of which still live on in American English today. For example, “A friend in need is a friend indeed!”

Pioneers in content marketing

In 1801, the Parisian bookshop “Librairie Galignani” tried to boost their business with a content strategy of the (then) more creative kind. For example, they opened a reading room and – similar to Netflix today – the bookshop began to produce its own material: They produced books and also gave important authors of the time the opportunity to publish guest articles in their own published newspaper.

Other notable examples of early content marketing pioneers include Samuel Wagner with his 1861 magazine “The American Bee Journal”, a magazine that is still published today, or the Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection and Insurance Company, whose magazine “The Locomotive” debuted in 1867 and is rumoured to be the longest-running company magazine without a name change in the USA.

Still relevant today – also thanks to content marketing?

However, among the first content marketers there are also consistently well-known publishers whose relevance is still undeniable today. For example, the “Edison Electric Lighting Company Bulletin”, first published in 1882. Or the informative customer magazine of Johnson & Johnson “Modern Methods of Antiseptic Wound Treatment” from 1888.

Particularly noteworthy, however, are John Deere’s magazines, “The Furrow” (1895), and Michelin’s 400-page “The Michelin Guide” from 1900. Both media are still in circulation today. The latter even still has the traditional red cover of the first edition. The John Deere magazine, on the other hand, has become one of the most widely read customer magazines, with over 1.5 million copies in circulation in over 40 countries and 12 languages.

Weight Watchers Magazine - one of the first customer magazines to be distributed through newsstands and supermarkets.

New technologies, new content

With the beginning of the 20th century and the invention of radio, new technologies became available, which resourceful content marketers knew how to exploit. In 1924, for example, Sears, the American retail company, launched a radio programme called “World’s Largest Store” to support and inform farmers during the deflation. Or in the 1930s, the advance of P&G, which produced radio content in collaboration with brands such as Duz or Oxydol – both washing-up liquid brands. This, by the way, is where the term soap opera comes from.

In 1968, the “Weight Watchers Magazine” was launched – at first glance not too noteworthy. However, it became one of the first customer magazines to be distributed via newsstands and supermarkets. With the invention of the internet in 1991, the possibilities for content distribution grew again. In 2001, Johnson & Johnson bought the informative online portal “Baby Center”. And in 2006, Blendtec uploaded the first video of their YouTube series “Will it blend?”, which earned them 235 million views and 910 000 subscribers.

Other important milestones

In 2011, the Content Marketing Institute launched the annual “Content Marketing World” conference, now the largest event in the world of content marketing. One year later, the first “Content Marketer of the Year”, Joe Chernov, was awarded. A little later, in the two years that followed, the medium of film was reinterpreted in the field of content marketing, attracting a great deal of attention. In 2013, Red Bull Media House launched 20 short films after a major expansion. Only one year later, the LEGO Movie debuted as the first feature film, which was also a brilliant content marketing move. Translated with (free version)

Examples of success from the near and distant past:

● In 1904, the Jell-O Company launched its first book of collected recipes, the Jell-O Recipe Book. The company distributed the editions free of charge and subsequently generated more than a million dollars worth of sales.

P&G launched in 2008. This is a content site aimed at teenage girls. The US market research firm Forrester found that the site was four times more effective than traditional media campaigns with comparable costs.

● In 2012, the Kraft brand began to build its entire marketing department around the buzzword content. Over time, this measure increased the return on investment by a factor of four compared to the results of the targeted advertising previously used.


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