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A Short History of Direct Mail Marketing – Part One

All of us grew up with mail being delivered regularly to our homes’ mailboxes. It’s been in practice for generations and is referred to as direct mail.

Direct mail marketing refers to a bulk mail service that delivers advertising or promotional material directly to a targeted audience, determined by a certain demographic. It is an interactive channel that encourages a measurable response from consumers. This was traditionally (predominantly) location-based and included flyer delivery, catalogues, newsletters and postcards. Direct mail marketing is as valuable today as it was before the digital age, and has grown and evolved to encompass delivery of flyers online. But how did we get here?

Hundreds of Years Ago…

The first definitively known example of using direct mail for marketing dated to Egypt in 1000 B.C. Found in Thebes and now on display at a British Museum, it is a piece of papyrus onto which a landowner advertised a reward in gold for the return of his runaway slaves.

Babylonian merchants used stone tablets and even their walls to advertise their merchandise to passers-by.

The printing press was invented by Johannes Gutenberg in Germany in 1440. At this time, only the clergy and members of the upper classes were able to read and write. With the advent of the printing press, mass-production followed and everyone had access to their own Bible; reading and writing became more common and available to more people and as such, direct mail advertising became a more valuable enterprise.

Throughout England and Europe in the 1400s, catalogues were produced for direct marketing purposes. Notable among these was the Venetian publisher Aldus Manutius, who printed a catalogue in 1498 that showcased the fifteen Greek and Latin books he was selling.

William Caxton was an Englishman of the fifteenth century who owned a Westminster Abbey printing press; he printed pamphlets so people could place orders with him.

Englishman and gardener William Lucas published a seed catalogue advising his prices, which he mailed to his customer base.

In 1681, founder of Pennsylvania, William Penn, published a pamphlet encouraging migration to the region; it was subsequently translated to Dutch and German and it led to mass immigration to Pennsylvania by Europeans.

In colonial North America, Benjamin Franklin published Poor Richard’s Almanac between 1732 and 1758. This was a weekly pamphlet used to not only broadcast marketing and advertising material, but to also promote anti-British sentiment during the lead up to the eventual American War of Independence.

From the early 1700s, merchants used postal catalogues to sell products.

Come back next week to discover how direct marketing evolved from the 1800s…

In the meantime, contact ClickSend for all bulk mail and flyers online for your business or organisation.