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How Marketing Has Changed Over the Years

Working in marketing has always been a vibrant, challenging and fast-paced way to earn a living, but if you’ve had your finger off the marketing pulse for the past few years, you probably wouldn’t recognise the sector today. For example, it’s no longer enough to tell someone that you ‘work in marketing’ without having to go into more detail. There are multiple types of marketing, many of which have arrived on the scene in the last decade, and each one requires a unique skill set, a creative approach and continued collaboration. Marketing as a concept can be traced a long way back in human history, but here’s an overview of just how much marketing has changed over the years.


The age old concept of word of mouth was responsible for a lot of the marketing when trades were carried out by hand. You listened to recommendations and the advice of influential and well-respected members of your community. In fact, in ancient Rome (way before the Instagram influencers we have today) gladiators were paid to wear or promote products. Humans, who have had something to sell, have been using changing technology and society to sell to people around them.

The industrial revolution in the 19th century brought mass production into our lives which meant it was now necessary to sell products in much larger quantities through more efficient distribution. At this time the usual medium for marketing was posters and billboards.

1920s – 1950s

The radio took hold in the 1920s which increased the reach of advertising. More and more products were now being advertised to consumers, giving them choice and making the space more competitive. This unfortunately led to companies making unsubstantiated claims and using unethical tactics.

Next came the arrival of TV and telephone which gave brands new ways to advertise their products and communicate their marketing messages. This brought a new level of complexity to marketing as there were now decisions to be made about the most effective channels to use as well as price and distribution.

1960s – 1980s

Marketing ideas become more focused on the personalisation and the concept of building a relationship with the customer rather than going after a single purchase. Marketers became concerned with the journey of their customers and standing out from the crowd with the shocking or ‘guerrilla marketing’.

1990 – 2010

The arrival of the internet changes everything and digital marketing is born in its earliest form; the now thankfully abandoned tactic of ‘spam’ marketing. Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) also becomes a strategy as marketers try to get their content to the top of search engine results.

After 2000 the next big development was ‘MySpace’ which signalled the start of the social media phenomenon. The internet has become a personal place providing more information to its users than ever before.

2010 and Smartphones

Marketers now had a huge amount of information about their prospects thanks to social media and the internet in general, but it also presented a problem. Consumers now had more options and information than ever before when it came to choosing a brand or product. They were also able to block or personalise the marketing they received. In addition, consumers were more savvy about advertising which means marketers needed to cater to the needs and wants of their customers rather than simply broadcasting.

This decade also saw smartphones become a part of our lives which brings new opportunities in email and mobile marketing. Marketing is more focused on creating relevant content which is readily available to its customers, not subjecting them to irrelevant messages.

Marketing Today

In 2019, the majority of the marketing we are exposed to comes to us through our mobile phones. Whether through social media, emails or from using search engines; our devices demand much of our attention. This is largely why social media in particular has had a massive surge in the last year or two with influencer marketing on YouTube and Instagram (much like the Roman gladiators in ancient Rome) as well as business profiles on Twitter and Facebook. What we do see on television and other traditional forms of marketing also echoes the essence of social media, i.e. the most effective marketing is telling stories, celebrating individuals and promoting a wider brand purpose alongside the product.