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Marketing History
Dave Carlson - November 5, 2008

The beginning of a journey should include a review and understanding of the history of an endeavor, since those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat previous mistakes (Ries & Trout, 2005). Over the past century, marketing has evolved along with changes in both business and society. In many industries a shift from local to global markets forced a paradigm shift in marketing techniques and procedures. Societal shifts also impacted marketing methods and philosophies.

Drucker (2008) taught that business can exist only in an economy that is expanding and accepts change as a natural occurrence. Along this path of change, it is necessary for a business to constantly grow better if it is to survive. As the needs and attitudes of society change, so must the process of marketing products and services to that society.

Before reviewing the history of marketing, it is appropriate to review the meaning of marketing. Kotler and Keller (2009) wrote that “marketing is about identifying and meeting human and social needs” (p. 5). The American Marketing Association defined marketing as “an organizational function and a set of processes for creating, communicating, and delivering value to customers and for managing customer relationships in ways that benefit the organization and its stakeholders” (Kotler & Keller, 2009, p. 5). Peter Drucker, a leading management theorist, proposed that the highest purpose for marketing is to “know and understand the customer so well that the product or service fits him and sells itself” (Drucker, 2008, p. 64).

Drucker’s concept of an ideal marketing world where the product sells itself may have reinforced the idea that “if you build it, he will come” (Rees, 2006, p. 194). For many reasons once popular items such as buggy whips, beaver hats, spats, mustache wax, automobile ignition points, home milk delivery, telephone operators, DOS-based software, and assorted dot-com organizations have all but faded away. Improving technology continually affected the availability and purpose for many products and services.

Technological and societal changes have caused marketing methods to shift: old marketing methods have faded away and new methods have emerged. Business decision makers no longer need to rely on traveling salesmen to deliver product samples to their doors. Sky writing may no longer be tolerated in some communities, since it could be environmentally unfriendly. In the past century, the Internet has added new marketing methods that no one could have conceived fifty years ago.

Belk (2007) reviewed several changes in American society over the past few decades that caused a change to marketing methods. Society changes included increased numbers of middle-income families, substantial rise in income, and increasing discretionary income. Additionally, more family members were no longer bound to the home, but worked full time and participated in increasing numbers of community activities. Another significant force that changed marketing methods over the past century was a realization and acceptance that society is not homogeneous. Most of the marketing research in the past “focused on able-bodied, middle-class Caucasian consumers” (Belk, 2007, p. 326). Today’s organizations must view marketing methods in the light of diverse populations to nurture success.

As with most worthwhile endeavors, marketing methods must shift over time to remain successful. Technological advances, changing societal perceptions, increased income levels, and many other factors have impacted marketing methods. Being aware of and understanding successes and failures of historical marketing methods will allow today’s marketing professional to leverage the knowledge of marketing history to help sustain or create successful marketing methods in today’s society.


Belk, R. W. (Ed.). (2007). Handbook of qualitative research methods in marketing. Gheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar Publishing

Drucker, P. F. (2008). Management: Tasks, responsibilities, practices. New York: Harper & Row.

Kotler, P. and Keller, K. L. (2009). Marketing management (13th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Rees, N. (2006). Brewer’s famous quotations: 5000 quotations and the stories behind them. London: Orion Publishing.

Ries, A. and Trout, J. (2005). Marketing warfare: 20th anniversary edition. New York: McGraw-Hill.


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