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A brief history of classified advertising

Classified advertising
14. Jun 2021
A brief history of classified advertising

Many people consider Benjamin Franklin to be the forefather of modern advertising: - in 1729 he published the Pennsylvania gazette, a newspaper whose running costs were paid for by the companies advertising which decreased the cost to the reader, in turn massively increasing the audience and therefore effectiveness of using newspaper adverts to sell products. It is also believed that the first known magazine advertisement appeared in one of Benjamin Franklin’s publications called the General Magazine around 1741.

Whilst it is true that Benjamin Franklin was a particularly important and large influence in the evolution of modern advertising, we can trace the start of advertising, (personal, business and classified) much further back than the 1700’s.

As far back as 2000BC ancient Egyptians carved public notices into steel, they also used sharp reeds and an ink made from crushed plants mixed with water, to write sales messages on papyrus (a thick paper like material made from the pith of the papyrus plant). Wall posters depicting events/sales etc were also written/drawn onto papyrus this way.

Around 206BC to 220BC during the Hans dynasty in imperial China news sheets called Tipao (meaning reports from the official residences) were handwritten on silk, although because these were only ever read by government officials they were probably not a remarkably effective route for advertising.

The Romans in around 59BC published “Acta Diurnal” (meaning daily acts) which were regular government news bulletins carved in stone or metal and posted in public spaces, they would also use these to advertise major events, list sales items, lost property, recruitment adverts etc

Fast forward to 15th century England and the first handwritten poster adverts started appearing nailed to posts and walls, during this time lost property adverts became increasingly common the first newspaper advert in England is believed to be for the return of a stolen horse and was published in 1622 in “The weekly news”.

By 1630 shops purely dedicated to posting adverts for people were becoming increasingly popular, these shops functioned very much like today’s newsagents’ windows, where businesses and individuals would write their events/sales/lost property/wanted and other classified adverts and take them to the shop to be displayed- at this stage the shops did not do any of the advert design, nor push for sales in the way modern advertising agency do, but they would eventually evolve into it.

Brand development and names started appearing in 1661 with an advert for Dentiforce Tooth gel being an early example. It was also during the mid-1600’s that handbills emerged, small, printed adverts, notices and announcements that were hand delivered to homes rather than posted in shops, this was the start of the modern leaflets and flyers.

1704 saw the very first of the more modern style newspaper classified adverts, an advertisement was placed in The Boston News offering Oyster Bay, Long Island Estate for let or for sale, it would take approximately 14 years for this trend to start to roll out to other newspapers around the world.

Personal Ads were a little longer in joining the classified world due to the stigma attached to advertising for romantic relationships, In 1772 one Helen Mason placed an advertisement in the Manchester Weekly Journal, stating her desire to meet with a nice gentleman, unfortunately it seems the only gentleman to respond to her advert was the mayor who had Helen committed to an asylum for a month.

These days we are much more accepting of such things and personal ads eventually became the basis for the many modern online dating sites and apps.

Moving rapidly into more modern times: - 1995 onward saw the start of the internet becoming accessible at home to the common person, with the internet becoming increasingly prevalent in homes, advertising and classified ads started to evolve into an online presence such as is seen today.

The first online classified site was called AdOne, However the most heard of and the one that popularised online classified advertising was Craigslist. Another influential site that changed how we buy, sell and advertise was E-Bay when the world of online auctioning was born. As the online presence of classified ads increased, the revenue newspapers received from classifieds went sharply into decline putting many newspapers out of business.

So, whilst we often tend to think of advertising as a modern concept, it has in fact been around for as long as we have had the ability to use written forms of communication, and has gone through a long and steady evolution, from the days ancient Egyptians carved adverts into Steele, right through to the modern-day internet classified sites and social media marketplaces.  However, one thing does not seem to change much, the need for and importance of classified advertising.  The way in which we use them may change but we still advertise the same things we did thousands of years ago, we advertise events, lost property, personal ads, recruitment ads, wanted ads, service ads, we offer products for sale and request products from others, new products, used products, we still advertise property to rent and for sale. It would seem no matter how the world changes around us, there will always be a place for classified ads.


References/bibligraphy: -


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