Evolution of Marketing Part 2
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The Evolution of Marketing Part 2: How Modern Ads Compare to Historical Ads

*ANNOUNCER VOICE*: “Annndd we’re back!”

In Part 1 of The Evolution of Marketing, we went over the differences between digital marketing and historical marketing.

But what about the ads themselves? How have those changed?

At first glance, vintage/antique advertising was massively different from modern ads, even modern print ads. But what you’ll come to see is that the core elements haven’t changed all that much… but there’s been a big shift in the core messaging of modern ads.

I mean, let’s ignore the actual product in the ad below for a second (because CLEARLY the times have changed with what we can sell, FDA regulations and all that…) and just look and the marketing elements.

Historical Ad to exemplify the evolution of marketing

It’s hand drawn, contains a lot of information that wouldn’t matter as much to modern buyers, and just feels old.

But when you break it down, you can see that there are core ad elements that are present in a modern ad equivalent as well.

The Historical Ad vs the Modern Ad

Old medicine ad with marketing breakdown, showing the evolution of marketing

You’ve got your graphic or image, your product name, your catchy hook, and then the company info. And when you compare it to a modern ad along the same lines…

Pharmaceutical ad with the same marketing elements as the old medicine ad

Same elements, though a significantly different breakdown.

And I know that pharmaceutical ads may be a bad example. After all, it’s those same regulations preventing the sale of cocaine as a toothache cure that require the triple-column, tiny-font, full page of disclaimers.

So let’s look at a car ad instead.

Here is an old ad:

Old chevy ad with consistent marketing elements

Compared to one from this year:

Chevy ad with all the same marketing elements

See? Same elements, different breakdown.

In this case, there is way LESS copy, and way MORE of a hook (really, 2 hooks). But there are still those same base elements.

(Related: What is Copywriting?)

Modern ads are, in many ways, the same as historical ads.

But wait, I know what you’re (probably) thinking.

You’re thinking that I spent the whole of Part 1 of this series telling you how different marketing is now, and how much better it is now; so how could I spend the entirety of THIS post telling you how the ads themselves are basically the same?

Here’s the thing. The core tenants of an ad may not have changed. But the messaging sure has. And the marketing tactics behind them sure have.

We no longer live in an era where you can buy a single ad placement in a magazine to make all your sales for the month.

Marketing has become a world of campaigns, massive audiences, and tiny differences in copy across 5 ads for the same thing.

Three slightly different versions for an ad for Chevy showing the evolution of marketing within ad structure.

But WHY?

It’s simple. You remember that one downfall of modern marketing from Part 1?

There is just way more competition.

Companies have to work harder for fewer sales.

You may still need to have all those same marketing elements in your online ads, but you also have to find a way to set yourself apart from the half-a-dozen (or more) companies selling the same thing as you.

So what is the best way to set yourself apart, without just slashing prices until your bank account hemorrhages or your business becomes stagnant?

Well, one of the biggest shifts we’ve seen in the evolution of marketing world has been the idea of “selling the why, not the what.”

Selling the Why, NOT the What

The idea behind selling the “why” is that there has to be something more than just your product on the line, and your company has to stand for something bigger.

Across almost every industry, businesses big and small are creating movements or standing for causes outside the scope of their own product/service.

Not only does this set them apart within their respective industries, but it keeps up with an increasingly engaged customer base.

(Related: How to Create Audience-Engaging Content That Drives Results)

To show you what I mean, I’ve picked out a couple examples of historical ads with some modern counterpoints that really exemplify this new “cause-based marketing” evolution.

The Evolution of Marketing Razors:

The razor industry has seen a significant amount of disruption over the last several years, primarily with the introduction of more affordable options like Dollar Shave Club and Harry’s onto the market.

A big part of that comes down to the messaging of their campaigns. Take a look at the ad below, an old Gillette ad, and see if you can pick out the core messaging of the ad.

Gillette ad emphasizing the safety of the product

If you guessed safety, here’s your gold star ⭐️!

This Gillette ad prioritizes the elements of the product itself, mostly its safety. “No stropping no honing” is seen at the bottom in the product information, and even if I did have to look up what stropping is (it’s polishing the edge of the blade, like you would a straight razor), it’s clear that they are trying to sell you on the razor itself. And that’s it.

This strategy clearly worked for a long time, because it was only this recent disruption that has bumped Gillette from the majority hold on the shaving market.

But when you counter this ad with a recent video ad from Billie, a women-focused razor subscription, it becomes clear that focusing on the product is simply not enough any more.

Billie’s utmost priority in this ad is to showcase inclusion and acceptance. It’s capitalizing on the body positivity movement to make their brand relevant to their target audience: young women.

They are creating a movement around their product, rather than advertising the product itself.

Project Body Hair by Billie video description

But what strikes me about this ad, and why I picked it to look at over a Harry’s or a Dollar Shave Club ad, is that the ad’s core message is that you don’t have to shave.

That’s like if a butcher shop put out an ad in support of vegetarianism. It just doesn’t make sense on the surface. But take a look at the comments on this video.

Comments for the Billie ad praising the ad and talking about remembering the company name because of it

Billie has extended their marketing outside the scope of their product and addressed a problem that is central to their audience. And they are being rewarded with audience engagement and brand loyalty.

They are selling the why—that some women WANT to shave—instead of the what—the razor.

Gillette on the other hand, is just now catching up to the cause-based marketing game. In fact, they released their own video ad attempting to start a movement (though it received a LOT of criticism).

But if I’m honest, after seeing the Project Body Hair ad, I may just be switching my own razor subscription to Billie.

The Evolution of Marketing Gasoline:

Gasoline, and energy in general, is not going through as much of a disruption. But Shell Energy has still taken it upon itself to change its advertising strategy in order to set itself apart.

When you look at an old Shell ad, you have an ad that details the benefits of their product. In this case, motor oil.

Old Shell ad that just sells the product

They go into why Shell oil is different and will “stretch time” for your engine. Which clearly did enough back then to make sales.

But counter it with a recent ad for Shell energy that barely mentions a product for sale, and you can see how their marketing has changed.

Recent Shell ad that embodies the marketing evolution of selling the why.

Even though the elements and visual breakdown of this ad are nearly identical to the old ad, the messaging is vastly different.

Shell is trying to evolve their marketing beyond the energy they sell and join the environmental movement for energy conservation. Their “why” for choosing Shell over another energy company is that Shell is “more environmentally conscious.”

Again, they have taken their ad beyond the scope of their product and are marketing a cause.

Now, whether their messaging was received well is a completely different issue. But there is a distinct effort to sell the why.

But not every company is going to have a cause as “big” as body positivity or environmental conservation. And our last example shows an ad that found a smaller-scale “cause” to fit with their company’s audience.

The Evolution of Marketing Cameras:

The focus of this last historical ad is again, the product (I’m sensing a trend…); specifically the price and ease of use.

Old Kodak Brownie ad

For context, the Brownie Camera in the ad was one of the first cameras marketed to the masses and paved the way for more widespread photography. So it makes sense that price and ease of use would be the focus.

But now everyone has a camera in their pocket, and actual cameras, particularly nice ones, are getting more and more expensive. So camera companies are having to get more creative with their marketing to convince their audience.

That is part of what makes the Nikon ad below so interesting. They are focusing on documenting your passion rather than using their camera. 

Nikon ad for Find your Passion Contest to show evolution of marketing messaging

By broadening the scope of their ad, not only do they give their audience a reason to buy/use their camera, but they build loyalty within their customer base.

You may have just dropped $3,000 on the camera, but you get to showcase your passion and possibly win some great prizes. There is nothing about the specs of the camera in the ad, or even on the landing page, despite it being the central product at stake.

And “Follow Your Passion” is a why that is way more scaled down from the other two examples, but it has just as much impact.

The Messaging IS the Marketing

Even if most of our ads today are digital instead of hand drawn, and even if digital marketing has usurped print marketing, your average ad still looks a lot like those historic ads selling morally questionable products.

So much is different, but ultimately, a lot is the same.

But even if the ads still carry the same general elements, it’s the messaging that we now connect with. And it’s the messaging that matters in the end.

So if you want to keep up with the evolution of marketing, you should probably take a page out of the cause-based marketing book and think about your “why” before you try to sell your “what.”

Becky Zieber

Becky Zieber

Becky Zieber is the Content Strategist at DigitalMarketer and is in charge of managing and building strategies for all DM content. In 2018, a year after graduating from California Polytechnic University, San Luis Obispo, Becky traded out her job in education publishing to move to Austin, Texas and join the DM team. She has since made it her mission to ruthlessly hound her coworkers about commas and dashes. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

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