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How long has content marketing been around? Chances are it’s longer than you think

Content marketing may be the hot way to grow your business now, but it’s actually a surprisingly traditional strategy.

Most people assume that content marketing was born out of the internet age, and they’d be forgiven for thinking so with the proliferation of content on digital platforms, from blog posts to social media pins, articles and more. But if you really want to know the answer to just how long has content marketing been around, then this post might just surprise you!

How long has content marketing been around? Table of contents:

  1. What is content marketing? 
  2. How long has content marketing been around? 
  3. The evolution of content marketing
  4. When was the term ‘content marketing’ first used? 
  5. Content marketing in 2021

What is content marketing?

To understand how long content marketing has been around, we need to know what it is we are talking about.

The Content Marketing Institute defines content marketing as:

“A strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.”

Sure, in 2021 we know it best as these common forms of inbound marketing:

  • Blog posts
  • Social media posts
  • Videos and podcasts
  • Infographics
  • Memes and images
  • Listicles
  • Articles
  • Tutorials and guides

But at the heart of all those things is easily shareable and communicable words and images that connect with audiences, sell an idea and persuade readers to take action.

To read more about converting customers, take a look at our guide to persuasive online copywriting.

people working on laptops and discussing strategy on piece of paper in middle

So, how long has content marketing been around?

Now we know what it is we’re talking about, it’s clear content marketing is not a new concept by any means. It’s only the digital aspect that’s relatively modern, and even that is now almost thirty years old!

Really, as long as there has been the written word (established sometime between 3400 BCE and 3300 BCE) and people trying to make money, there has been entrepreneurial individuals communicating their USPs and putting their wisdom down into easily shareable formats.

The first known case of this kind of content marketing is often cited as Benjamin Franklin’s ‘Poor Richard’s Almanack‘, which was first printed in 1732. Featuring everything from poems to sayings and observations, its purpose was to popularise his printing business.

But the printing press was first launched in Germany by Johannes Gutenberg almost three hundred years earlier in 1450, which made the mass circulation of text and imagery easy. Though the printing press was largely used for disseminating religious, devotional texts, it soon became a tool for propaganda. It has been fused with the spreading of persuasive literature ever since, meaning it’s highly likely content marketing was extant long before Franklin got in on the act.

As trade increased and mass production became possible, the proliferation of consumerism by the late 18th century saw a man named William Taylor create the first ad agency in London in 1786, followed by Volney B. Palmer who opened the first US ad agency in 1840.

In 1801, the Parisian book shop Librairie Galignani began printing a newspaper containing insightful articles from some of the contemporary ‘influencers’ of the time, as well as opening a reading room to promote and encourage the enjoyment of their content.

Just like today, content marketing was increasingly being seized upon by entrepreneurs to create valuable selling opportunities, which flourished during the 19th century.


The evolution of content marketing

Since then, companies that have gone on to become household brands,  started out by humbly creating content in digestible formats with the primary goals of educating, entertaining and promoting. These include John Deere in 1895, with what’s thought to be one of the earliest customer magazines, The Furrow, right through to the Michelin Guide in 1900, both of which are still going strong today over 120 years later.

Sears and Procter & Gamble both took their content to the radio, adapting to the latest technology, in the 1920s and 30s, respectively. And with the rise in soap operas airing on the radio and TV, more opportunities sprang forth for tied advertising.

Whatever the emerging (and dominant) media of the decade, advertisers and marketers were quick to find ways to promote their product through relevant content, including cereal boxes which could utilise quirky characters to tell a story.

This evolution continued with the rise in magazines, including the Weight Watcher’s Magazine in the 60s, aimed at promoting its products via content that took prime spot on the newsstands, and LEGO’s own magazine, Brick Kicks, in the 80s.

By the time the world went online in the mid-late 90s, marketers were having to turn their attention to yet another media: the world wide web. Websites suddenly became one of the best vehicles to promote, sell and entertain, with their opportunity to blend high-quality imagery with compelling text and low production costs.

In 1993, the first commercial website was launched by O’Reilly and Associates, with the first ‘(we)blog’ established in 1996 by Justin Hall of Swarthmore College, creating the predominant form of content marketing we know today. In fact, in 2004, ‘blog’ was Merriam Webster’s Word of the Year!

Take a look at the CMI’s video on the history of content marketing to see the evolution of content marketing in progress…

When was the term ‘content marketing’ first used?

Despite these rich foundations and over five and half centuries of the printed word, it wasn’t until 1996 that the term ‘content marketing‘ was first coined by publisher John F. Oppedahl at a roundtable of journalists at the American Society for Newspaper Editors.

Penton Custom Media began using the term in 2001, and by 2010, the Content Marketing Institute was born with the world’s first Content Marketer of the Year, Joe Chernov, crowned in 2012.

person reading understanding digital marketing book

Content marketing in 2021

Nowadays, content marketing exists in as many forms as there are media: from podcasts and video to magazines, blogs, newsletters, sales letters and even TV and film franchises. But all of it exists as a means of providing information to current and potential customers in order to attract new business, while also providing those who are interested with quality content to consume.

However, if we want to get specific, then for the kinds of inbound content practices many small businesses can benefit from using today, a better term to use might be ‘digital content marketing‘.

The perks of digital content marketing are that it’s quick, easy and cheap to get started. The open-source nature of the web means advertising and marketing your business, small or large, no longer requires a huge budget. That’s great, because, as we know, no one is more of authority about what your business can offer than you are, and you get to showcase that expertise to the whole world with digital content marketing.

Though the most successful content marketing strategies are those with a strategy in place that create engaging and useful content consistently, you can still create a blog for free and need nothing but some spare time and great ideas.

With a data-driven content marketing strategy, your business can play its part in the evolution of this compelling and democratising marketing method.

✏️ Need some content marketing assistance? Hire a professional blog copywriter today!

Header image: Nathan Anderson

Embedded images: Scott Graham, Florian Klauer, Elio Santos

Wendy Woodhead

Wendy is the Account Director at Copify and a qualified copywriter and proofreader. She has spent six years copy editing and copywriting for B2B and B2C clients and has experience in freelance and in-house arts marketing and digital content creation. Wendy likes to write about language and literature, digital marketing, history, current affairs, and arts and culture. In her spare time she enjoys yoga, reading and writing fiction.

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