Advertising: from papyrus to digital platform

The aggregate spend on advertising globally was a mammoth figure of $550 billion in 2017. Forecast for 2018 is to reach $558 billion mark. That's a staggering number! North America spends the most followed by Asia and Western Europe.

Advertising has been an integral part of not only business but human civilization since long. The fundamental objective of advertising is to persuade an individual or a group of individuals to decide and take certain course of actions. History shows, advertising has been around in one form or the other for more than thousand years.

The first known method of advertising was outdoor display also termed as “out of home” similar as billboards today. Three thousand years ago papyrus sheets were used in ancient Egypt to announce the reward for return of runaway slaves. 

In ancient Rome, businesses used mosaics, pictures on signs or walls to promote their wares. Archaeologists discovered some interesting signs from various excavation works done in Greece and Italy. One such object excavated in Rome was a sign for renting a property; while in Pompei there was a painting on the wall drawing the attention of the travellers to a tavern located in another town was also dug out.

In medieval days, the Athenians came up with an innovative idea of using “town criers” who used to shout to praise the merchant wares at the time of the arrival of the merchant ships to make people aware. 

The invention of printing press in 1445 boosted the advertising sector as the technology had facilitated to the production of advertising materials in bulk quantity for broader distribution.

Newspaper ads became popular these days as those could reach to wider audiences and were able to cover widespread geographies.

Advertising grew tremendously in England during the first half of the early printing period. America started following the suite during 1700's. During that time ad was mostly limited to trade related information like arrival of shipments of certain commodities like tea, coffee etc. This sector was controlled by the printers and publishers of the newspapers at that time.

With the development of the printing technology like Chromolithography in the late 19th century enabled people to use colour picture which made the advertisement more colourful and eye-catching. The appearance of consumer product advertisements started to increase in the magazines in the late 19th and early 20th century.

The invention of Radio in 1920 made advertising world to enter a new era of development. With Radio, it became so easier to reach out to the customers in virtually no time. In the 1950s, television became very popular as an advertising media.

With the emergence of internet in late 70's, advertising also started to adopt the technology. Email was the first form of online advertising. Gray Thuerk, a marketer from Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) sent an email to 400 odd users on May 03, 1978 to promote a new model of DEC computer.

Slowly, Email became popular as an advertising media. Mark Eberra, an American business man, also known as the inventor of internet advertising, started first ever email marketing company in January, 1994 in the US. 

As online shopping is increasingly becoming popular among consumers, businesses now-a-days are focusing more on online advertising. As a result, this sector is moving thick and fast with different innovative ways of reaching out to the target customers. 


Statistics suggests, global spending on digital ad was $229 billion in 2017. Google's ad revenue in 2017 was $93.4 billion!

The concept to advertising has also evolved with the changes of time. During the late 19th century, a concept called AIDA (Attention, Interest, Desire and Action) was comprehensively applied to develop ads. It says, an ad should firstly catch the attention of a target audience, then the interest would be generated which would derive the desire and finally the desire would lead to action. 

AIDA concept gradually changes to a model called “The complex cognitive model” which further breaks down the process into attention, interest, understanding, conviction, action and satisfaction.

Understanding refers if the message is clearly understood by the target audience while conviction is all about convincing customers about the beneficial features of the product. 

In the mid of the 20th century another concept named “The Unique Selling Proposal” was emerged. It says a commercial must have a single and compelling reason for the consumers to buy the product. Thereafter comes the concept known as “The Lavidge and Steiner Hierarchy of Effects Model” which fundamentally considers three stages: think, feel and do.

Think refers to making the customer aware of the product by providing knowledge, which is the actual cognitive process. Feel is about liking and preference. Finally, Do refers to conviction and purchase.

In the 80's, marketers realised that there is no “one size fits all” formula in advertising. Therefore, a model called “The FCB Grid” emerged. This model was developed by Richard Vaughn, a senior vice president of Foote, Cone and Belding Advertising.

Depending on the products and the target customers, different model should be used. There are basically two types of products: products that are bought because of rational reasons and those bought for emotional reasons. The degree of involvement and feelings of the customers vary with the type of products.

Advertising has passed through a strong evolution overtime. The most fundamental change has occurred with regard to emotions. It's not only about presenting facts anymore, it's all about touching the feelings of the customers.


The writer is chairman and managing director of BASF Bangladesh Ltd. The views expressed here are personal.


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