Ancient Marketing Secrets, Modern Applications – Part 1

Ancient Marketing Secrets, Modern Applications – Part 1

Businesses are always on the prowl for fresh marketing techniques — new, innovative ways to attract modern consumers.

But ironically, the most popular and most successful marketing, in channels new and old, has its roots in centuries past.

A friend of mine, Ed Dolan, used to say, there are no new ideas in business; only clever repackaging of old ones. And as much as ad agencies would like you to believe everything they come up with is “something from nothing,” the greatest marketing campaigns today are just new applications of old ideas.

Don’t believe me? Keep on reading…


Celebrity Endorsements

Josiah Wedgewood

Believe it or not, celebrity endorsement has been around for over 250 years. The first to arguably understand the power of this marketing tool was Josiah Wedgwood, the creator of Wedgewood Pottery, who opened his first pottery workshop in 1759. Because his designs were high-end, he took the time to court those whose fashion opinions mattered most in those days – painters, architects, and even royalty. In fact, when he produced a tea set for the British Queen Charlotte, he requested permission to call it “Queen’s Ware,” which made it a popular choice across Europe.

About a hundred years later, celebrity endorsements started becoming more and more popular. From Mark Twain Cigars to ginger ale approved by Annie Oakley, businesses were learning that people would be more likely to buy a product enjoyed by someone they respected.

Sure, our celebrities nowadays look a bit different than their predecessors. Michael Phelps doesn’t sport a handlebar mustache and Julia Roberts wouldn’t be caught dead with a bandana around her neck. But the concept is the same. Consumers – and people in general – look up to famous people and try to emulate them, even in areas where they have no expertise or advantage. But a new marketing technique? Not quite.

Appeal to Authority

Not sure you can trust celebrities to have your best interests at heart? Then maybe you’ll trust an authority to tell you whether a product is right for you.

Old cigarette ads used this marketing strategy regularly, citing medical professionals who believed that cigarettes were healthy in general – or that a particular brand of cigarettes was healthier than the others. Coca Cola, cocaine, and even heroin were also marketed this way for decades. Sometimes, even without citing an actual doctor, showing a nurse or other medical professional promoting the product would accomplish the same implied health benefits.

While this technique was used inappropriately, many brands do use it today to show consumers the veracity of their claims. After all, if a toothpaste is so fantastic that the vast majority of dentists recommend it, wouldn’t you choose it over its competitors? And if an athlete like Tom Brady credits his success to sleeping in a specific brand of sleepwear, wouldn’t all athletes opt to try it out?

Starting to rethink your attitude towards old marketing techniques?

Next month’s blog post, which tackles the history of content marketing, aspirational marketing, and eyecatching ads, will fully convince you of the value of using age-old techniques to market to present-day consumers.


This is part 1 in a series that explores how modern businesses can learn marketing secrets by examining advertisements of the past. This post focuses on the marketing history of celebrity endorsements, as well as of the advertising technique of appealing to an authority figure. Upcoming posts will explore other marketing techniques, including content marketing, the use of trademarks, and aspirational marketing.