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From Papyrus to Pixels: A Journey through the History of Content Marketing

Keep reading to learn about the history of content marketing, how it has evolved, and how it’s going to evolve in the future.

Diana Bajraktari

Senior Content Strategist

From Papyrus to Pixels: A Journey through the History of Content Marketing

Content marketing is a branch of marketing that involves creating and sharing written and visual content. It does not directly promote a brand, but it builds interest in its products or services. Today, we often identify content marketing with digital platforms such as websites, blogs, email, and social media. But, in reality, content marketing existed long before these media. 


Keep reading to learn about the history of content marketing, how it has evolved, and how it’s going to evolve in the future. 

The 1700s

Content marketing channels existed long before the digital era. The furthest track down in the history of content marketing starts in the 1700s. In 1732, Benjamin Franklin produced the first yearly Poor Richard’s Almanack. 


Although it may not sound like content marketing, he launched a publication to promote his printing company. It operated until 1758, selling up to 10,000 copies every year at its peak. 


The Almanack was one of the most popular publications in the Thirteen Colonies. Seasonal weather forecasts, home tips and techniques, puzzles, astronomy, and astrological information, and poems were among the contents of the Almanack. Magazines and online outlets still publish these articles today.

The 1800s

In 1801, the Librairie Galignani bookstore in Paris, a haven for English-language reading material, wanted to expand its business. Giovanni Galignani used his publishing business to print Galignani’s Messenger to promote new ventures, such as reading rooms. The daily English paper featured articles from well-known authors and information about popular books, all of which were related to the bookstore. Printing promotional marketing set an example for other businesses, shops, products, and processes of the day.


The American Bee Journal, established in 1861, has played a significant role in the rise of beekeeping in the United States. Initially founded by Samuel Wagner with the support of beekeeping pioneer Langstroth, the journal provided a platform for sharing information, techniques, and advancements in the field. 


In 1867, the Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection and Insurance Company published The Locomotive, a company magazine. It is still published as a newsletter and is the oldest company magazine in the United States that was published regularly under the same name.


In 1882, the Edison Electric Lighting Company published a bulletin informing the public about the advantages of using electric lighting in their homes and businesses.


Scribner’s Magazine, established in 1887, was a prominent literary publication that ran until 1939. The MJP digital edition focuses on the years 1910 to 1922 and features contributions from renowned authors. While the magazine dedicated a significant portion of its pages to advertising, it also covered a wide range of topics, including fiction, poetry, cultural and historical articles, travel writing, and discussions on World War I. Aside from competing with publications such as Harper’s Monthly and Atlantic Monthly, it provided curious readers with insight into the lives of famous authors and increased sales of Scribner’s books. 


In 1888, Johnson & Johnson published Modern Methods of Antiseptic Wound Treatment. The purpose of this content was to reach doctors all over the world and offer them more information and services from the company than just bandages. Johnson & Johnson sales representatives then distributed the guide to retail pharmacists, doctors, and surgeons across the United States. They spread about 85,000 copies in a matter of months. Modern Methods was translated into three languages and sold 4.5 million copies worldwide in the years that followed.


In 1895, John Deere started releasing The Furrow, a quarterly magazine. People refer to this example as the beginning of brand publishing because it included both agricultural articles and advertisements for John Deere products.

The 1900s

By the turn of the century, brand publishing was becoming commonplace. In 1900, the Michelin Tire Company capitalized on the trend with the Michelin Guide. The 400-page book provided drivers with vehicle maintenance advice. It also encouraged them to get out on the road and explore new places and businesses. The Michelin Guide became well known for its travel advice and restaurant recommendations.


Michelin took a risk with this type of marketing. Few people had their own cars in the early 1900s. They also didn’t have to buy tires if they didn’t own a car. Michelin could persuade people to buy cars by making travel appear exciting and exposing them to places they couldn’t visit without personal transportation. Eventually, those cars would need new tires. It worked so effectively in fact, that the Michelin Guide continues to exist today. 

The Jell-O corporation used this clever trick to get people to buy their products. Starting in 1904, company salespeople offered free Jell-O cookbooks door-to-door. Although the book was free, many of the recipes included Jell-O products. This helped the company to increase its sales by more than $1 million in two years.


20s-30s – Radio content marketing

In the 1920s and 1930s, radio content marketing was a groundbreaking concept, as print material dominated the media landscape. Companies like Sears-Roebuck and Procter & Gamble found innovative ways to utilize radio for advertising. 


Sears started its own radio station called WLS in 1924, providing tips, information, music, and comedy shows while interspersing ads for its stores. Procter & Gamble sponsored a radio program called Oxydol’s Own Ma Perkins in 1933, targeting female listeners by promoting its products, particularly Oxydol soap.


A notable example of radio content marketing was CBS Radio’s Halloween prank in 1938. Orson Welles, an actor, announced on air that there was an alien invasion in New Jersey, adapting H. G. Wells’ novel War of the Worlds. Unaware listeners experienced mass hysteria, and the broadcast generated widespread attention with over 12,000 articles written about it. Despite the unethical nature of the stunt, it significantly raised CBS’s brand recognition. This era of radio content marketing played a role in shaping the term “soap opera.”


60s-70s – Multi-channel marketing

In the 1940s and 1950s, content marketing took a backseat because of World War II and the rise of television. Overt advertising became dominant, with a focus on direct sales pitches and commercials across radio programs, newspapers, and TV stations. However, in the 1960s, advertising and content marketing merged as magazines gained popularity.


Weight Watchers Magazine, launched in 1968, became the first consumer magazine to be sold at newsstands and supermarkets. Targeted for women, the magazine provided information on healthy habits, diet, and women’s issues while featuring advertisements that had become popular in the previous decades.


Advertising didn’t restrict itself to magazines, but also extended to television and radio. This era marked the emergence of multi-channel marketing, exemplified by Exxon in the early 1960s


Exxon used the slogan “put a tiger in your tank” across all its advertising and marketing efforts, creating a consistent message. This approach inspired other companies to adopt cross-channel campaigns, which have now become a standard practice in contemporary marketing.


80s – Content marketing for kids and teens

In the 1980s, companies recognized the importance of targeting not just adults but also children and teenagers as consumers. While products were often made for younger demographics, marketing efforts primarily focused on parents who had the purchasing power. However, LEGO took a different approach by involving kids in their marketing strategies.


In 1987, LEGO introduced its Brick Kicks magazine only for club members. The publication included building ideas, comics, and games, and to receive the magazine, children had to persuade their parents to sign them up for the club. This tactic proved successful as kids eagerly sought the magazine. Presently, LEGO continues this approach with the free LEGO Life Magazine, for children aged 5 to 9.


Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, marketing to younger demographics remained popular, and other brands followed suit by releasing similar publications. Nickelodeon Magazine, Disney Adventures Magazine, and American Girl Magazine were among the notable examples. These magazines engaged children and teenagers with content such as puzzles, games, lifestyle articles, and features on celebrities while promoting their respective products and services.


90s – Content marketing has a name

Despite existing for 200 years, content marketing didn’t have an official name until the 1990s. While many companies were using it, they considered it as a strategy rather than a distinct marketing approach. However, in 1996, John F. Oppendahl changed this perception by coining the term “content marketing” during a discussion at the American Society for Newspaper Editors’ conference.


Introducing this name led to the growth and recognition of content marketing as a discipline and service. By 1998, Jerrell Jimerson at Netscape held the professional title of “director of online and content marketing.” 


Soon after, the term became widely adopted within the industry. For instance, author Jeff Cannon included it in his book, Make Your Website Work for You: How To Convert Online Content Into Profits. This development set the stage for content marketing to become one of the most influential practices in the digital age.

The 2000s

In the late 1990s, as the internet became more accessible to consumers and a commodity, content marketing became a common practice among businesses. Companies had to find new ways to interact with their audiences on these channels as they established websites, blogs, and email marketing into their strategies. Social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube grew in popularity by the late 2000s. This shift increased the need for more than just informative content. It also had to be visually appealing for timelines and feeds, as well as engaging and shareable.


Blendtec’s “Will It Blend?” show on YouTube in 2006, where random objects were blended to show the power of their blender, exemplified the shift towards client and consumer-focused content. As the industry evolved, brands such as Johnson & Johnson, Sherwin-Williams, American Express, and P&G embraced digital platforms to provide valuable resources and engage with their target audiences.


The growth of the content marketing industry itself was clear with the establishment of Penton Customer Media in 2001 and the Magnum Opus Awards (now the Content Marketing Awards) in 2004.

The 2010s

In the 2010s, content marketing evolved into a lifestyle for certain brands and marketing departments, as companies recognized the value of sharing content online. It wasn’t just about individual content pieces anymore, but about creating immersive experiences for clients and customers. This shift led to innovative content strategies, as exemplified by the following examples:


In 2012, Kraft Foods made a significant transition by focusing its marketing efforts on content development rather than targeted advertising. This strategic change resulted in a fourfold increase in the company’s return on investment (ROI) for marketing.


Intel launched its Intel IQ digital magazine in 2012, centering on tech culture. The magazine utilized machine learning, algorithms, and team curation to determine the featured content on its cover and front page.


Red Bull, the energy drink company, went beyond expanding content experiences in 2013 and established a separate entity called Red Bull Media House. This extension of the parent company produced 20 mini-movies initially and later expanded into brand partnerships, content partnerships, editorial news, and publishing.


Marriott International established an internal creative content marketing studio in 2014, collaborating with creators and influencers to develop original content and videos.


These experiences and company extensions went beyond mere promotional efforts, transforming content creation into a profitable process that turned well-established businesses into versatile corporations with multiple facets.

The 2020s

The COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 prompted companies to reassess their marketing strategies for their brands, products, and services. As people shifted to remote work, online learning, and increased time spent at home, marketing teams had to adapt and realign their approaches accordingly. 


Once again, content marketing took center stage. With individuals having more downtime and being confined to their homes, there was a greater demand for engaging content. People sought both entertainment and educational materials without the need to venture outside.


There was an increased need for various forms of content, such as tutorial articles, how-to YouTube videos, and podcasts covering a wide range of topics. Today and in the foreseeable future, the emphasis lies not only on the content itself but also on how it is packaged, presented, and shared with the target audience. Trends have shown that regardless of the subject, the presentation of content plays a crucial role in capturing attention and engaging the audience today.

The Future

Content marketing is not and will never be static. Although it can be hard to predict, there are some changes that are foreseen to happen in the future. 


Video content

Video has emerged as the dominant medium for content marketing in recent years and shows no signs of slowing down. The COVID-19 pandemic further sped up the popularity of video creation and consumption, with media uploads increasing by 80% in 2020. 


As video-first social platforms like TikTok continue to dominate, the potential for massive growth in video content is undeniable. Brands can leverage video to bring their message to life and establish personal connections with their audience, capitalizing on the widespread creation and consumption of visual content in today’s world. 


The focus for marketers will be on standing out, which can be achieved by emphasizing the quality and relevance of their video content, as well as exploring emerging platforms like TikTok. 


By venturing beyond traditional avenues, such as blogging, email marketing, and SEO, brands can create a distinct presence and establish a competitive edge. Regardless of the approach, video will continue to play a central role in the evolution of content marketing.


Mobile optimization

Mobile data traffic is projected to be seven times larger in 2022 compared to 2017, highlighting the exponential increase in mobile device usage. Content marketers must adapt to this trend to remain relevant.


In 2021, 61% of Google searches occurred on mobile devices, showing the continued dominance of mobile browsing. So, optimizing websites for mobile devices is crucial for successful SEO strategies. Content, including blogs and videos, should be accessible and consumable on smartphones. 


The rise of mobile technology also opens new avenues for content marketing, such as virtual and augmented reality experiences. As people rely on mobile devices, content marketers must align their strategies accordingly.


Customer-first content

Google’s ranking algorithm aims to prioritize content that is most relevant to searchers, and marketers should focus on delivering high-quality content that resonates with consumers. The future of content marketing lies in creating empathetic content that addresses the needs of the audience. 


Understanding the target audience and creating content that helps and enriches their lives will be essential for marketers. The emphasis is shifting toward audience enrichment rather than product promotion. Leading to more targeted, purposeful, and customer-centric content marketing practices. 


The future of content creation involves automation with AI and natural language processing tools, enabling marketers to create quality content in less time. These tools will simplify tech stacks and streamline workflows. This allows marketers to focus on messaging and strategy while automated tools handle formatting and design elements. Automation will make designing and branding content effortless, freeing up marketers to concentrate on the core aspects of their brand.


Interactive content

In today’s landscape, consumers have a preference for easily consumable and interactive content. Studies show that interactive content is highly favored by 45% of B2B buyers, with twice the engagement compared to static content. 


To cater to audience preferences, it is important to incorporate more interactive elements into content strategies. Interactive content not only breaks up lengthy text but also provides alternative ways for viewers to engage with the material.


Prioritizing security

Using cookies and ad-tracking tools will undergo significant changes in the next decade, causing marketers to prioritize data security to maintain consumer trust. A shift towards zero-party data is expected, where customers voluntarily provide personal information, including context, interests, and preferences, in exchange for value. 


Zero-party data facilitates personalized and relevant experiences for consumers while providing brands with valuable insights and fostering long-term relationships. Embracing zero-party data enables brands to establish trust and deliver personalized content. As other data collection methods, such as third-party cookies, phase out, marketers will increasingly rely on zero-party data in the coming decade.

Final Thoughts

Implementing content marketing strategies can transform businesses into media publishing companies. Whether through magazines, newsletters, or blogs, these businesses go beyond merely providing information to drive sales.


It is crucial to dedicate time, attention, and curation to the content development areas of the business. They are integral components for building brand awareness and attracting new leads. By understanding the target audience, prioritizing quality, and establishing a unique brand identity in the market, you can stay ahead of the ever-evolving content marketing landscape and its trends.


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