As many publishers have shown, content marketing has a long and proud history. But while many forebears of content marketing - like John Deere's customer magazine and the Michelin Guide - have had their pioneering work widely recognised, others are less fortunate.
We reckon it's time these under-appreciated pioneers had their time in the spotlight. Scroll to the infographic below to see our 11 unsung heroes of content marketing.
Of course, this is all based on our own opinion. Have we missed anyone? Let us know!
1770s: Thomas Paine
- Paine helped kick-start the American Revolution through the publication of his 1776 ‘viral’ pamphlet Common Sense.
- Common Sense was distributed through the social channels of its day – taverns, bars and other meeting places.
- It remained the best-selling American work more than two centuries after publication.
1840s: Edgar Allan Poe
- Poe is best known for his macabre novels, but we reckon he’d have been a great content marketer if he was born 150 years later.
- On April 13, 1844, the New York Sun ran a front page scoop, describing how Monck Mason crossed the Atlantic Ocean by balloon in just 75 hours.
- Poe quickly revealed he had written the story as a hoax, but his confession did little to quell the immense public excitement.
- His fake story presages famous click-baiting media hoaxes, such as the man who claimed to have received a monster size 1,450 slipper thanks to a manufacturing mistake.
1850s: Benjamin T Babbitt
- Babbitt was a well-known businessman in the 1800s, who made his fortune manufacturing soap.
- Babbitt’s contribution to content marketing comes through a pioneering business decision – he was one of the first to offer free samples to consumers.
- This was a new approach to promotion that foreruns today’s content marketing philosophy – give your audience something useful, and let them decide whether it’s worth buying the product.
1940s: Stork (Margarine Brand)
- Stork, a brand of margarine, suffered from poor comparisons with butter – until the company released The Stork Wartime Cookery Book.
- The pamphlet didn’t just focus on margarine – it also included reduced sugar recipes and hints and tips on “how to make the most of tinned food”.
- Published at a time when wartime rationing was at its height, The Stork Wartime Cookery Book effectively engaged customers at a time when butter was in short supply and people were looking for alternatives.
1960s: Bill Bowerman
- Bowerman was an American track and field coach, but is best known as the co-founder of Nike.
- Together with cardiologist Waldo Harris, Bowerman wrote a 19-page pamphlet titled, simply, Jogging. The pamphlet was instrumental in bringing the sport to the States.
- It also helped sell Nike’s running shoes. But the Nike brand wasn’t mentioned anywhere in the booklet.
- Bowerman knew that, in a nascent market, information was much more valuable to customers than simple sales patter.
1960s: Howard Gossage
- David Ogilvy was known as ‘The Father of Advertising’, but for our money, his associate Howard Gossage was the real progenitor of content marketing.
- Gossage specialised in anarchic, long-form copy placed in top-flight, high-circulation magazines – and his ads were often more engaging than the articles surrounding them.
- From information-gathering coupons, to social media-style customer dialogue, to fourth wall-breaking humour, Gossage was laying the foundations for online content marketing decades before the Internet boom.
1960s: Marshall McLuhan
- McLuhan was a friend of Gossage, and is perhaps most famous today for predicting the rise of the Internet back in the 1960s.
- McLuhan briefly became a celebrity thanks to his pioneering 1967 work The Medium is the Massage, which influenced countless marketers for its assertion that the medium in which information is presented is at least as important as the information itself.
- Nowadays, this way of thinking is second nature to any content marketer, but if it wasn’t for McLuhan, content marketing may have been a very different beast.
1990s: Ellen Dissanayake
- Dissanayake isn’t your average anthropologist. She came up with the idea of art as ‘making special’ – meaning to take something out of its everyday context and make it extraordinary.
- Dissanayake focussed on the production of art in small communities, where ‘making special’ would help promote social unity. But it’s the content marketer’s job to ‘make special’ on a global scale.
- Through social media, blogs and other tools of mass distribution, content marketers are acting out Dissanayake’s theories every day, to an audience of millions.
1990s: David Bohnett and John Rezner
- Bohnett and Rezner founded Beverly Hills Internet in 1994, later to become GeoCities.
- By giving users free web hosting, GeoCities pioneered democratic online publishing years before MySpace, blogs, or the content marketing revolution.
- Geocities may be remembered now for bad animated gifs and other hallmarks of the early web, but allowing anyone to create their own online space in 1994 was genuinely radical.
1990s: Scott Zakarin
- Zakarin created The Spot, one of the first episodic web series, in 1995.
- The online soap opera used blogs, images and video to build a narrative, and was popular enough to garner more than 100,000 hits per day.
- The Spot pioneered advertising-supported content, reaping revenue from banners advertising big brands like Apple and Visa.
- But it’s most important innovation was interactivity. Viewers could send emails to influence the storyline and interact with characters, a decade before the rise of social media.
Thomas Paine: Wikimedia Commons
Edgar Allen Poe: Wikipedia
Benjamin Babbitt: Wikimedia Commons
Stork logo: ImageKid.com
Bill Bowerman: GoDucks.com
Howard Gossage: Van de Inhoud
Marshall McLuhan: Wikimedia Commons
Ellen Dissanayake: EllenDissanayake.com
David Bohnett: Wikimedia Commons
Scott Zakarin: IMDB.com