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01 July 2021 • Resources

The evolution and history of content marketing: how it's changed over time

The evolution and history of content marketing: how it's changed over time

Content marketing is often considered a relatively new concept. Although it’s definitely evolved over the past few years and has increased in popularity exponentially, its roots actually go back hundreds of years. 

Ever since businesses have known the importance of assisting by providing useful information, some form of content marketing has been in place. 

Today, ecommerce entrepreneurs all over the world understand the benefits of content marketing and use content marketing to increase sales for their online stores.

How did content marketing get its start?

Regardless of the current level of experience that you have with content marketing, it’s worth taking a look at its history so that you can understand and learn from the past. 

Here are some of the major events that have helped shape the various types of content marketing that we know and use today!

1732: Benjamin Franklin issues his first Poor Richard’s Almanack

Benjamin Franklin first introduced this yearly publication to promote his printing business, and it was published regularly until 1758. 

It included a wide range of content, such as weather forecasts, astronomical and astrological information, poems, and the sporadic math exercise. However, Franklin’s publication was especially known for its witty phrases and proverbs, which often advised courtesy and thriftiness. 

1801: Librairie Galignani opens, using numerous creative methods to grow the business

The owner of this Parisian bookstore was Giovanni Antonio Galignani, an Italian publisher born in Brescia, who later moved to London and then Paris. 

Besides creating a reading room that specialized in books in the English language for visitors to enjoy, Galignani launched Galignani's Messenger in 1814. 

This daily newspaper often featured contributions from well-known English-speaking authors to appeal to anglophones in the community.

1861: Samuel Wagner launches the American Bee Journal

The journal’s first editor, Samuel Wagner, published the premier issue in January 1861, and it was the first bee magazine available in the English language. Prior to this publication, few of the current conventions related to beekeeping were in place. 

Though publication of the American Bee Journal was suspended for a few years due to the Civil War, it resumed in 1866 and continues to be published today.

1867: Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection and Insurance Company releases its company magazine, The Locomotive

Founded in 1866, Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection and Insurance Company was started when boiler explosion disasters were fairly frequent. 

The company worked towards making factories safer places to work and launched The Locomotive, which helped educate readers on boiler safety and other issues. 

This magazine is still in circulation today and is actually the company magazine that’s been published under the same name for the longest period of time in the US.

1882: The Edison Electric Lighting Company Bulletin is first published 

Issued from 1882 to 1884, this bulletin was launched to tell people about the advantages of electric lighting. 

It featured happenings in the electric lighting industry along with stories regarding what was going on with the different Edison companies. The bulletin also included customer testimonials, lists of equipment for sale, annual reports, and more.

1887: Publishing house Charles Scribner’s Sons launches Scribner’s Magazine

Published from 1887 to 1939, Scribner’s Magazine featured engravings by famous artists and articles by prominent authors, such as Clarence Cook, Elisabeth Woodbridge Morris, and John Thomason. 

Sales of the magazine reached their highest when President Theodore Roosevelt began contributing to the magazine. Another facet of the publication that attracted readers was that it was the first magazine to include color illustrations.

1888: Johnson & Johnson first shares Modern Methods of Antiseptic Wound Treatment

This publication’s target audience was the doctors who purchased bandages from Johnson & Johnson. The educational manual helped educate readers on how to perform surgery using sterile methods to prevent the spread of germs that cause infection. 

At the time of its publication, there was a serious public health need for a guidebook of this type, as using sterile equipment and supplies during operations was a very new concept. 

1895: John Deere launches the magazine The Furrow

Though it did contain advertisements for John Deere products, The Furrow, a quarterly publication, was far from a product catalog. It focused on strengthening the relationship between customers and the brand by including articles and agricultural advice. 

The magazine became so popular that by 1912, it had 4 million readers, and it continues to be published today in 40 countries.

1900: Michelin starts the Michelin Guide

At the time of this guidebook’s initial publication, there were less than 3,000 cars being used in France. French tire company Michelin launched the Michelin Guide in an effort to boost demand for cars, and therefore car tires. 

The first addition was free, and the company distributed almost 35,000 copies. It contained information to assist French drivers, including maps, instructions on how to repair and replace tires, and details for hotels and gas stations located throughout France. 

1904: Jell-O begins distributing its Jell-O Recipe Book

Though Jell-O products are known and enjoyed around the world today, the brand wasn’t doing so well in the early 20th century. 

In the hopes of attracting more customers and saving the company, Jell-O started placing ads in Ladies’ Home Journal and also launched its Jell-O Recipe Book

This is an excellent example of content marketing, as although the book didn’t sell Jell-O products, it provided consumers with something to do with the products.

1924: Sears starts a radio station, WLS

Sears, Roebuck, and Company was a sizable retail company that also offered mail-order services in the 1920s. In an effort to entice farmers and other people living in rural areas to purchase radios from the store’s catalog, Sears began buying time on radio. 

After a while, the company decided to bolster its efforts by launching its own radio station, WLS, which stood for “World’s Largest Store.”

1930s: Procter & Gamble delves into radio, creating the first “soap opera”

Many businesses were cutting costs anywhere they could during the Great Depression. However, Procter & Gamble went in the other direction and began increasing its advertising spending. 

The company’s president, Richard Dupree, decided to invest in radio, which was a comparatively new format for advertising at the time. Instead of using radio time to simply promote products, though, Procter & Gamble considered what its target market was experiencing during this period. 

The company created a dramatic program for the radio, and the first show was sponsored by Oxydol, Procter & Gamble’s soap brand. This significantly increased Oxydol’s popularity while forming the basis for future “soap operas” to follow.

1968: Weight Watchers launches Weight Watchers Magazine

Weight Watchers, now known as WW, is a company that features a variety of products and services for weight loss, fitness, and overall health. 

The first issue of Weight Watchers Magazine had 300,000 copies published. It was one of the first consumer magazines that people could purchase from supermarkets and newsstands.

1987: LEGO starts its magazine, Brick Kicks

Now known as LEGO Life Magazine, Brick Kicks was launched to promote the company and its toys for children. This magazine features contests, games, product info, comics, special offers, and other items to educate and entertain the members of its target audience. 

Although the publication does include product-related details, it’s mainly made up of information meant to build interest in the product and brand.  

1994: Justin Hall creates the first blog

A student at Swarthmore College, Justin Hall launched Links.net, a website that was made up of short posts. Each post featured a link and his thoughts on the link’s content. 

Similar sites followed, where authors detailed the happenings of their personal lives along with their thoughts on various topics.

Jorn Barger, author of the Robot Wisdom blog, began calling this type of site a “weblog” in 1997. The term was later shortened to “blog” in 1999. Today, blogs are an important facet of content marketing strategies for businesses all around the world.   

1996: First documented usage of the term “content marketing” occurs

John F. Oppedahl, working for the Arizona Republic at the time, was leading a discussion for journalists at an event for the American Society for Newspaper Editors. 

The discussion revolved around the idea of employing content to market newspapers, moving from the sole notion of increasing readership to increasing reader satisfaction. 

Oppedahl first uttered the phrase “content marketing” during the discussion. It’s now become one of the most popular terms in modern-day marketing.  

2004: Social media network Facebook launches

Originally known as “TheFacebook,” this channel quickly grew in popularity and is still one of the most popular networks used by companies for content marketing today. 

Other social media platforms soon followed in Facebook’s footsteps, including YouTube in 2005, Twitter in 2006, and Pinterest and Instagram in 2010. Most successful ecommerce brands incorporate at least one of the aforementioned networks in their content marketing strategies.

2006: Blendtec begins its video series, Will it Blend?, on YouTube

In this viral marketing campaign, Blendtec’s founder, Tom Dickson, demonstrates the blending power of the company’s products in a series of infomercials. 

The videos generally feature Dickson blending a variety of unusual items, such as a cooked chicken with 12 ounces of Coca-Cola, to entertain and impress viewers. 

Blendtec has seen a significant increase in sales due to its YouTube series, which has also led to a merch launch and other advertising opportunities for the company. 

2007: American Express creates its OPEN Forum

Designed to help small businesses succeed, credit card company American Express’s OPEN Forum boasts a number of helpful resources. The company combines its own expertise with outside sources to boost trust and authority with its audience. 

Owners of small businesses get to avail of a community where they can have discussions with other entrepreneurs like themselves. OPEN Forum also offers virtual and in-person events where users can build additional connections. 

In addition, American Express makes it easy for people to provide feedback, facilitating quick improvements where needed.

2008: A handbook for content marketing, Get Content Get Customers, is released

Written by Joe Pulizzi and Newt Barrett, this book helped lead brands in developing marketing strategies that focused on creating compelling content. 

Though many of the handbook’s ideas have changed since its initial publication, it offered readers a thorough guide as to how to make better connections with potential and current customers through content.

2012: Kraft starts to emphasize content within its marketing department

Previously a side project, content marketing became a major focus for Kraft, leading the company to create personalized content that resonated with its target audience. 

The food producer and manufacturer’s ever-changing strategy highlights the importance of adaptability and a quickness to react.

This company’s efforts have served the business well, as MDG Advertising notes that content marketing brings Kraft a return on investment that’s four times higher than other techniques.

2012: Intel creates a digital magazine, Intel iQ

Technology company Intel began increasing its content marketing efforts with the debut of its online publication. 

As the world of technology is constantly changing, Intel strives to help keep its audience knowledgeable about all the latest updates via Intel iQ. Though originally launched in the US, the digital magazine was later made available in multiple countries around the world. 

2014: Marriott International begins its internal creative and content marketing studio

To better connect with its target audience, this hotel giant launched a content marketing strategy that emphasized high-quality storytelling. 

Specializing in content involving travel and lifestyle topics, Marriott’s efforts have helped introduce the brand to and inspire a whole new generation of travelers.  

2014: The LEGO Movie is released

Appealing to kids and adults alike, this movie was a major content marketing success for the LEGO. 

Rather than pushing viewers to buy products, the film’s message stressed the importance of imagination, regardless of a person’s age. This in turn increased interest in LEGO’s offerings from both children and their parents.

The movie brought the company success not only in sales but in social media as well. NewsCred Insights states that before the release of the movie, LEGO’s Instagram posts tended to get about 7,000 to 10,000 likes. 

However, the company started seeing “like” counts closer to 15,000 to 22,000 per post after the film came out.

2015: General Electric launches a podcast, The Message

With the popularity of podcasts on the rise, General Electric (GE) decided to create GE Podcast Theatre and connect with the company’s audience in a new way. 

The science fiction plot of The Message captivated listeners, achieving 4 million downloads and reaching the #1 ranking for podcasts in the US.


The history of content marketing illustrates how content marketing works to grow businesses. By educating and assisting potential customers and building trust, companies have a better chance of earning sales when those shoppers are ready to make a purchase.

If there’s one thing we’ve learned from examining the above list of events, though, it’s that content marketing is definitely not a static process. 

However, despite the fact that the methods you use for your strategy will likely change in the future, the importance of building and maintaining a connection with your audience will stay the same!

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