Traditional to Digital: A Look at the Evolution of Marketing Over the Last 120 Years | FORTAYmedia
Evolution of Marketing

Traditional to Digital: A Look at the Evolution of Marketing Over the Last 120 Years

The evolution of marketing is quite the tale. Change is presiding in the marketing world, and mastering how to exploit the fluctuations in this ever-changing industry will ensure that marketers are able to adhere to altering advertising expectations whilst maintaining revenue.

Evolution of Marketing

Marketing has been around for centuries. It has evolved with transitional consumer demand, technological developments and changing times. From word-of-mouth marketing in ancient civilisations to the digital marketing methods we see today, the evolution of marketing has been both fascinating and significant in the development of the business industry.




This era focused on the product itself and was a period marked by mass production and the emergence of large-scale companies. It was a time where emphasis was placed on advertising product features and functionality rather than creating a strong sense of brand awareness and emotional connections with consumers. It was perceived that consumers were more likely to purchase a product if it was cheap and readily available. Thus, businesses placed a tunnelled focus on mass production to lower costs and increase sales.

The idea in this era was that customers just needed to know what products were available on the market so that they could decide whether to purchase them or not.

This era also triggered the rise of the Industrial Revolution. Companies such as Ford, still a highly recognised automaker, dominated this industry and hired an extensive workforce to sustain the demand for production. In fact, between 1917 and 1923 the motor company ceased advertising entirely in order to focus on production.

Ford’s advertisements were text-heavy and highly informational. They emphasized the price, quality and standardisation of their products in their ad copies.

Henry Ford Quote

The main methods of advertising during this era included:

  • Newspapers
  • Magazines
  • Billboards
  • Posters




During this era, businesses shifted their focus to selling their products as opposed to just producing them. This was fuelled by intensified competition following WW1 that created the need for using abilities to sell goods and services. This period emphasised the importance of advertising to increase sales with little consideration for consumer preferences and needs.

Mass-produced products were the norm prior to this era, however companies started to believe that consumers would still want to buy products if they were enticed by eye-catching sales promotions.

This era also marked the start of a core principle which is still associated with marketing activities today: a strong brand identity.

In the 1920’s, Coca-Cola realised that they were not selling as many products in the winter. A production-oriented approach like Ford’s would not be appropriate for this brand, so instead Coca-Cola decided to focus on creating a stronger sense of brand identity. They did this by attaching their brand to none other than the famous, Santa Claus.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by The Mountaineer (@themountaineernews)

To make this tactic work, the company needed to design a solid and distinctive image of Santa that would appeal to consumers. Finally, in 1931, they found the illustrations they had been looking for, drawn by the hands of Haddon Sundblom. These iconic Santa illustrations have continued to evolve into the Winter advertisements that we still love today.

The popular methods of advertising in this era were:

  • TV
  • Radio
  • Newspapers
  • Posters




Around the 1950’s, companies realised that placing their focus on their own needs often left their customers feeling unsatisfied. This era instead focused on understanding and meeting customer needs and wants. In this time, companies started to conduct market research, gather appropriate data and utilise their findings to develop targeted marketing strategies that put the customer at the centre of their marketing activities.

By the 1960’s, marketing management, marketing specialist and strategic marketing planning became an essential part of every business.

By the 1980’s, consumers were in charge. There was a concept where it was thought that businesses should find the right product for their customers rather than finding the right customers for their product.

The marketing era also marked the rise of new types of media channels such as mobile which allowed companies to reach larger, and more global, audiences as well as use innovative ways to promote their products.

In 1984, Apple published a Super Bowl pioneering commercial introducing the debut of the Macintosh Personal Computer but did not show the Mac. Whilst some were sceptical of this advertisement, the concept was clear; it was not about getting the consumer to buy the product, it was about showing that a new world is possible by taking a different approach to the adoption of technology.

The preferred marketing channels of this era included:

  • Mobile
  • TV
  • Radio
  • Computer




This era places an emphasis on establishing and developing long-term relationships with customers with the intention of higher levels of customer retention, customer loyalty and continued interaction with the brand. It also focuses on building brand awareness to increase market share.

By this time, marketers had recognised the importance of customer loyalty and sought to provide premier customer service, ongoing support, a quality user experience and personalised marketing messages. The rise of social media has played a significant role in this era as it provided companies with a platform to communicate with consumers in new and ingenious ways. The customer-centric marketing era has led to the significance of customer relationship management.

This era has also placed a spotlight on company image; the more that customers can scrutinise businesses, the more responsible businesses will be in their day-to-day activities to prevent negative brand perception.

In the 1960’s and 1970’s, many companies were exposed for their unethical practices such as environmental pollution. This led to negative reactions from consumers. By the relationship era, it was clear that businesses needed to focus on creating high-quality products that were also ethical.

Marketing methods most commonly used in this era are:

  • Mobile devices
  • Desktop services
  • Social media

Marketing Timeline


Digital marketing is the promotion of products over the internet or any form of electronic media.

The term was first used in the 1990’s. At this time, the internet was first starting to be used for commercial purposes as marketers struggled to develop their marketing campaigns through traditional methods. This new way of marketing gave businesses more exposure to sell their products and services.

The first search engine, Archie, was introduced in 1990. This was the start of search marketing.

The digital marketing age truly began with the introduction of the internet and the development of the World Wide Web project in 1991. Up until this point, marketers were unsure of using digital platforms for their marketing activities as they had not seen extensive deployment.

1994 saw the first clickable banner ads go live. This marked a major development in the digital marketing age.

Later in 1994, the marketing browser Yahoo was released. This was among few companies with the ability to generate a big profit from online marketing. In its first year, Yahoo secured 1 million hits. This was an indicator that companies should consider modifying their websites to achieve high rankings.

In the late 1990’s, Bristol-Myers Squibb, a drug company, became the first company to launch an online marketing campaign. The purpose of the campaign was to raise awareness about a product and free samples were available for their online, American customers.

The company managed to collect 30,000 names on their online customer listen within the first two days.

Originally known as BackRub, Google began in 1996 as no more than a research project which conceived a system that would crawl the internet to create a more efficient and accurate way to find information online.

The search engine quickly and continually gained popularity and in 1998, the founders incorporated the company as ‘Google’ with a $100,000 investment from the co-founder of Sun Microsystems.

Since then, Google has substantially expanded its services to include:

  • Online advertising (Google Ads)
  • Email (Gmail)
  • Web analytics (Google Analytics)
  • Cloud computing (Google Cloud Platform)
  • Mobile Operating Systems (Android)

Google has also acquired many high-profile companies over the years such as YouTube and Waze.

Nowadays, Google is the largest search engine with over 80% of the search market share.

The first identifiable social media platform, Six Degrees, was launched in 1997 and had around 3.5 million users. Unfortunately, the platform was shut down in 2001 as it was an idea that was ahead of its time and internet connectivity had not advanced enough at this point.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by FORTAYmedia (@fortaymedia)

From the 2000’s onwards, many new social media platforms and sites were launched and the digital marketing age skyrocketed. It has continued to skyrocket ever since.

Today, more than half of marketing (55%) is now digital and there are approximately 8 types of digital marketing. By 2026, the global digital advertising market is projected to be valued at $876.10 billion.



  • A transition from outbound marketing to inbound marketing
  • What was once a singular marketer role has now become various sub-roles that form a marketing team
  • New job roles have been created that did not previously exist, for example, a social media manager
  • A transition from traditional marketing methods to digital marketing methods
  • Marketing activities are now more customer-centric and look at the customer’s requirements, the customer’s experience and customer attitudes
  • Consumers from around the world are more connected
  • Brands can now advertise on a global scale
  • Shopping can now be done online via e-commerce methods


Marketing is an industry that will continue to evolve for many years to come. The last 120 years have been a continuous process of innovation and adaptation, driven by changing technology, consumer preferences and economic fluctuations. It has gone through a major shift from traditional marketing methods to the ever-growing use of data-driven, digital marketing. One thing is for sure, we are looking forward to seeing where the industry will be in the next 10 years!

Phil Kotler Quote

Share this post