In the Japanese martial arts, there’s an aphorism worth noting: on ko chi shin, “study something old to learn something new”. When you’re starving for new creative ideas for your content marketing, a step into the past might be called for.

Let’s specifically look at the golden age of newspaper advertising, from about 1880 to 1920. During this period of time in America, newspaper advertising was the only mass media channel available. Commercial radio didn’t really have a presence and there was certainly no Internet. Here’s why this period is worthy of study: advertisers had to pack a tremendous amount of punch into very little space and still be effective. Sounds a lot like content marketing in the social media era, when the constraining factor is the attention span of your audience!

Take a look at this classic ad:

Vintage_Electronics__TV_of_the_1910s

See anything familiar?

Look at the title. It’s from 1910, but it could easily fit into BuzzFeed or Upworthy today – “I went to buy a phonograph. I found one and something infinitely greater!” Alongside, you have your images and marketing copy. If you’re looking for marketing trends in how social media uses headlines and copy, look from decades past. Everything old is new again.

Take a look at this ad:

We always pay attention to the human face.

Again, what do you see that reminds us of modern content marketing? We have a catchy headline. We have an inciting question that immediately grabs you and brings you into the copy. The solution to the stated problem is right afterwards – make $2,000 per year. There’s some detailed copy and then an immediate call to action.

The lessons that early newspaper advertisers learned shouldn’t lay in the dustbin of history if we can avoid it. History repeats itself! The medium has changed many times since these ads first ran – radio, television, the Internet – but the human beings making purchasing decisions as consumers and businesses are still largely the same. Take the hard-won lessons of the past and apply them to your content marketing today as it makes sense to do so, and you might indeed learn something new by studying something old.


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