We’re all familiar with the old adage: “The more things change, the more they remain the same.” Strange as that may sound, the notion behind this saying is simple. No matter how complex a situation may appear, nor the rate or nature of changes that we may be dealing with, there tends to be an underlying corollary that remains constant.
To test this hypothesis, I spent some time browsing through the archives of Duke University’s John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising & Marketing History to gain a perspective on what marketers were dealing with at the beginning of the twentieth-century. As importantly, I wanted to compare their reality with the environment in which we operate today.
Surely the fundamentals facing marketers had to have changed, I reasoned. There have simply been too many advancements and technological improvements for the aforementioned adage to hold true. However, a quick review of some key events then and now might suggest otherwise… you be the judge:
- 1915 – Millions of dollars are spent on advertising and public relations to stimulate consumer demand
- 1915 – Modern market research begins, resulting in ads being increasingly targeted to specific audiences
- 1915 – The first transcontinental telephone line opens from NY to San Francisco
- 1916 – Self-Service retailing is invented by the Piggly Wiggly chain of grocery stores
- 1916 – U.S. automotive and truck production exceeds one million new units
- 1918 – The New York Times begins home delivery
- 1918 – Ad legend James Walter Thompson sells his namesake agency to Stanley B. Resor and partners
- 1918 – The Federal Government takes control of the nation’s telephone and telegraph systems
- 1921 – Badly hurt by the depression, Sears, Roebuck & Company Chairman Julius Rosenwald pledged $21 million of his own funds to bail the company out
- 2018 – Billions of dollars are spent on advertising and earned media to stimulate consumer demand
- 2018 – AI aided market research and predictive analytics allow marketers to better chart the consumer journey
- 2018 – Number of worldwide mobile phone users expected to pass 5.0 billion
- 2018 – Amazon Go unveils revolutionary check-out free convenience stores
- 2018 – U.S. Plug-in-Electric Vehicle sales estimated to eclipse 400,000 units
- 2018 – The New York Times achieves 2 million digital only subscribers
- 2018 – The J. Walter Thompson brand is merged with Wunderman to form Wunderman Thompson
- 2018 – The Federal Communications Commission repeals net neutrality rules
- 2018 – Sears files for bankruptcy, closing 140+ stores, Chairman Eddie Lampert submits $4.4 billion bid to buy the chain and stave off closure
While the size and scale of the issues that our industry was dealing with are certainly different, the fundamentals are actually more similar than not. Whether in the context of advancements in retail models or modes of media distribution to the impact of emerging product sectors and government regulation or even developments related to changes in agency ownership, there is a certain “sameness” to our industry… even after an eventful 100 years.
Hopefully we can find comfort in the aforementioned adage and confidence in the fact that our predecessors were able to successfully navigate the challenges which they faced to help create what has become one of the world’s most stimulating and dynamic business sectors, advertising and marketing.
As we reflect on the passing of another year and contemplate the challenges and opportunities that will present themselves to us in 2019 all of us at AARM would like to offer up an old Irish toast to each of you:
“May the best day of your past be the worst day of your future. May your troubles be less and your blessings be more and nothing but happiness come through your door.”