Cows, cakes, and credit cards. Oh my. What do they have in common? They’re all part of the rich history of content marketing

While content marketing seems new, it’s actually been around in some form for hundreds of years. Let’s run through a brief history of content marketing so you can appreciate its roots and assure your coworkers or managers that content marketing is a proven approach.

Content marketing: the birth of an industry

Perhaps the earliest example of content marketing dates back to 1732, when a young Ben Franklin launched Poor Richard’s Almanac to promote his printing business. The publication offered a range of useful and entertaining content to attract customers and to show off Franklin’s printing capabilities. We can thank content marketing for words of wisdom like “Fish and Visitors stink in 3 days.”

In the 1800s, several prominent content marketing efforts launched in print. For example, Johnson & Johnson launched three publications for doctors and medical professionals about topics like treating wounds. John Deere launched a magazine called The Furrow for its farmer customers and still publishes it today. 

And the 18th century closed with the tire company Michelin launching that famous Michelin Guide for drivers who needed guidance on lodging, food, and more while traveling. Today, Michelin stars are the most prestigious ratings a restaurant can get.

Content marketing in the 20th century

Throughout the 1900s, content marketing expanded into more industries, more formats, and more distribution methods. Some notable examples emerged in the food, toy, and retail industries.

In 1905, Jell-O published a recipe book featuring many ways to incorporate the Jell-O product. In 1924, Betty Crocker launched daytime radio’s first cooking show and started publishing recipe books, too. Sears and Procter & Gamble kicked off radio shows around that time, as well.

Weight Watchers innovated content marketing in 1968 by distributing their magazine not only to its customers but also in newsstands and grocery stores.

And LEGO started a magazine called Brick Kicks in 1987 that is still available today as LEGO Club Magazine.

Content marketing in the digital age

Finally, since the World Wide Web opened to widespread use at the end of the 20th century, content marketing has exploded. From websites to social media to movies, the industry has innovated in many ways.

In 2001, for example, Johnson & Johnson bought the website BabyCenter from eToys to kick start its digital content marketing around baby products. The blender manufacturer Blendtec released a video series on YouTube in 2006 called Will It Blend? that has received more than 235 million views. Around this time, the energy drink company Red Bull formed Red Bull Media House to cover rush-inducing sport and culture events on TV and the web, and today that media house is a powerhouse that even licenses its content to companies like Reuters. 

In 2007 American Express launched the Open Forum website for small businesses, and it’s still a go-to resource. Kraft doubled down on content such as recipes and guides starting in 2012 and used the data to make smarter advertising decisions. More recently, Marriott launched a studio for creating travel guides and entertainment, and LEGO launched a series of full length feature movies starting with The LEGO movie.

Where will we go next?

I could go on and on with examples of content marketing through history, but you get the idea. As you can see from this brief history of content marketing, the concept of using content to connect with customers and raise awareness of products or services has been around for centuries. Content marketing has skyrocketed to new heights of impact and innovation and will continue to evolve as technology advances.  And I can’t wait to see where we take it next.

The Author

Colleen Jones is the author of The Content Advantage and founder of Content Science, a content intelligence and strategy firm that has advised or trained hundreds of the world’s leading organizations since 2010. She also is the former head of content at MailChimp, the marketing platform recognized by Inc. as 2017 Company of the Year. A passionate entrepreneur, Colleen has led Content Science to develop the  content intelligence software ContentWRX, publish the online magazine Content Science Review, and offer online certifications through Content Science Academy.

Colleen has earned recognition as an instructor on LinkedIn Learning, one of the Top 50 Most Influential Women in Content Marketing by a TopRank study, a Content Change Agent by Society of Technical Communication’s Intercom Magazine, and one of the Top 50 Most Influential Content Strategists by multiple organizations.

Follow Colleen on Twitter at @leenjones or on LinkedIn.

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