Sales: An Old Profession

Sept. 11, 2014

By Eric Myers

Most are aware of the two oldest professions in the world; however, few of us have are aware of what may be the third: marketing/advertising. In ancient times, signs were plastered throughout Rome, Pompeii and Carthage announcing the latest gladiatorial battles. The spectators were encouraged to witness the grand spectacle of exotic animals brought back from the farthest reaches of the great Roman Empire.

During the 13th century toward the end of the Yuan Dynasty, paper packages were placed in an ancient tomb located in the Central Chinese province of Yuanling. The paper bore markings similar to the ads of today. Seventy characters, according to Cao Yannong of the Chinese Cultural Relics Association, were painted on the upper right hand corner of the page. The characters were written in red powder and on the bark of a mulberry tree. Cao Yannong says the ancient people used "black patterns, such as the forms of lotuses and clouds."

One of our forefathers, Benjamin Franklin, is known as the patron saint of advertising. This aggressive ad man (I knew there was a reason I liked him) was revolutionary in more ways than merely politics and government; he was one of the first to do a comparison ad. He wrote an ad for the Pennsylvania Gazette warning consumers that his stove wouldn't rot their bodies like the competition did. And another of Franklin's peers believed in advertising. Before making his great midnight ride, Paul Revere advertised his denture company. It's safe to say, however, that his midnight ride was not advertised ahead of time.

Whether we're talking about Rome, China or colonial Massachusetts, surely there were questions about the effectiveness of these marketing campaigns. Revere may have lamented the price of an ad. Franklin probably questioned the wisdom of a full-page in his newspaper. Couldn't the newspaper just do a story about his stove? Or maybe he could just hire the town crier? How many leads did that print ad generate? You know the organizers of the gladiatorial contests looked for a way to quantify the results of their ads ... did those posters really bring in that many people to the Coliseum?

Now, I'm being a little tongue-in–cheek about the questions posed to marketers, but in reality those are the types of questions we get all the time. For any of us to be successful we have to become fluent in the language of justifying marketing/advertising expenditures. Just as a salesperson needs to justify a business trip by explaining what they expect in return, we have to be able to explain the return on investment.

For the last 4,000 years, marketing and advertising have been used to get a message out, to sell a product and to increase attendance (or ridership). How has that changed from today? Besides the means of delivering the message (which in some ways hasn't changed all that much either), the only difference is there are more distractions today. Attendance at the Coliseum wasn't competing with the American Idol semi-finals. Franklin wasn't worried about his competition Tweeting about his stove.

With so many messages providing so many distractions, it is more important than ever to increase awareness, separate yourself from the clutter and drive results. Whether it's a Facebook page or a Twitter account promoting your system, a banner ad selling your product or a print ad announcing the latest bus, the money is worth it. So next time your agency or company reaches for the marketing budget first for things to cut, just remind them that our forefathers were marketing professionals and believed in advertising ... and do you really want to argue with the logic of Benjamin Franklin?