What hasn’t changed in 350 years of advertising?


The first coffee ad in England - click to expand

Modern marketing seems so different from older forms, doesn’t it?

With things like social media and content marketing, it’s easy to believe that advertising has changed fundamentally.

But has it really?

On the left is something interesting I stumbled across the other day. You can enlarge it by clicking here.

It looks like an old news clipping or a page from a book, doesn’t it? But it’s actually an ancient advertisement: a copy of a handbill from 1652 that was the first ad for coffee in the English language. The original is in the British Museum.

More than 300 years before Starbucks invaded London, an entrepreneur called Pasqua Rosée handed out copies to Londoners, inviting them to try the then-exotic beverage at his café.

To our jaded, brand-filled modern minds, it’s a pretty dull ad. If you were to launch coffee today you’d probably write shorter, punchier copy, and include an eye-catching photo.

But give old Pasqua a break. He wasn’t David Ogilvy. He didn’t have a Mac or even a camera. And his media opportunities were pretty limited too.

I think he did an admirable selling job. If you’re to believe him – and many Londoners probably did – coffee was a cure for all evils, including “Dropsy, Gout and Scurvy”.

I’ll bet gullible Londoners queued up to get into Pasqua’s café.

After all, the ad has just what Samuel Johnson, in the following century, said a great advertisement should have:

“Promise, large promise”

And I think that is the fundamental thing that’s never changed in advertising.

Jumping ahead to 2010, look at the Tweet below, from the highly successful Old Spice campaign. It’s essentially an extension of the brand’s advertising, promising that you can “Smell like a man, man.”

Old Spice Tweet. Click to enlarge




Or, coming back to coffee, look at the Starbucks Tweet below. Underlying all that brand’s customer communications is the promise of a more pleasant lifestyle.

Starbucks Tweet. Click to enlarge

Almost four centuries after Pasqua’s flyer, how we communicate with customers has completely changed, at least on the surface. But underneath, “promise, large promise” is not only the soul of an ad, but also of social media, content, experiential or any other form of marketing.

Any comments? Please share yours below.




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