New Book Explores What Vintage Marketing Campaigns Can Teach Modern Marketers

There's little truly new in the marketing strategies that companies today employ.

A lot of marketing strategies used today are adapted from those developed many decades—even a century—ago, finds Robert Williams, assistant professor of marketing at Susquehanna University. Williams is an expert on the history of marketing and is author of the new book, Vintage Marketing Differentiation, which examines the origins of marketing and branding strategies that have proven to be successful for more than a century.

“Many of the most successful vintage companies were perceptive of their environment, took advantage of trends, and made the most of timing to become the first, or dominant, company to utilize a new marketing strategy category,” he says.

His book focuses on sixteen distinct marketing or branding strategy categories such as slogans and jingles, loyalty programs, and money-back guarantees. Some examples include:

  • Targeting consumers directly. “Quaker Oats reinvented early traditional advertising by bypassing the grocer and advertising directly to the consumer. Prior to Quaker, “Advertising” of the day consisted of offering an announcement of a company’s products for sale, without any sales story. By totally flipping the advertising target, consumer demand increased, which, in return, encouraged grocers to buy and stock the product.”
  • Advertising during “the big game.” “Gillette developed a new marketing technique that is widely used today: advertising during an important televised sporting event. The company advertised over the radio for the 1939 World Series during the broadcast, and company sales of razors soared.”
  • Proof-of-purchase promotions. “To secure customer loyalty, Aunt Jemima introduced a marketing campaign which, according to historians, turned into one of the most famous in merchandising history. For one trademark proof of purchase—a box top with the Aunt Jemima trademark— and 5¢, customers received an Aunt Jemima rag doll. For 75¢ and 3 box tops, a customer would receive the entire Aunt Jemima family.”
  • Self-service at the grocery. “The Piggly Wiggly Corporation, founded by Clarence Saunders in 1916, in Memphis, TN, is notable for being the first true self-service grocery store. Customers entering a Piggly Wiggly store displaced the clerks, by wandering through the grocery store and picking out their own items, placing them in their basket, and paying for them at the cashier’s booth. By 1917 the concept of the cost-saving “self-serving store” was patented.”

The book is published by Palgrave Macmillan and co-authored by his wife, Helena.

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Susquehanna University
Assistant Professor of Marketing