The History of Content Marketing

4 mins read

Content marketing is a term that digital marketing people love to kick around these days.

No bullshit here. I can’t stand the term.

Yes, I use it. A lot.

But that’s because I am speaking to my audience, who uses this term to somehow or another make it distinct from other kinds of marketing.

The reason I don’t like the term is because I view ALL marketing to mean… well – CONTENT!

They’re really one in the same.

As a jargon term, content marketing has evolved to mean a specific MEDIUM in conjunction with a METHOD of structuring various kinds of MESSAGING across a MULTI-CHANNEL strategy.

This is where some of my peers would tell me I’m also guilty of veering off into a realm of complex vernacular (as in “saying complicated shit”).

Okay cool… GFYS.

Words mean things. 😀 ha!

ANYWAY, I digress… back to the matter at hand

I ran across a pretty cool video on YouTube from the Content Marketing Institute about the History of Marketing that got me thinking about the great marketers in relatively modern history. In the interest of TL;DR, I won’t go all the way back to social evolution of prehistoric trading here.

Of course, China invented everything… including content marketing. At least that’s what the Chinese would like you to believe. I’m cool with the idea of it – even though it might have just been some incredibly precise writer with impeccable penmanship.

So what WAS the real driver behind the invention of media-driven content marketing?

DERP DERP… the printing press

As human communications evolved, content marketing as a function of creating a brand was really triggered by Johann Gutenberg when his big printing press light bulb flickered on.

That event is in my personal “top 5 radical shifts in human history. I don’t know what the other four are, or in what order, but it sounds good anyway.

That was the first time a “brand” could be established and controlled by intentional design of the creator. The mass media opportunity of print is what created an opportunity to establish a consistent presentation of an identity.

The Caxton Ad

This image shows one of the earliest English printed advertisements – a handbill printed by William Caxton in 1477. It reads: “Pyes * * * of Salisbury * * * good and chepe * * * if it please any man spirituel or temporel to bye.”


The ad offered printed “Pyes”, which could be construed as food pies. Or maybe in keeping with the horrific risks of political expression of the era, pyes being the clerical rules. It was telling how the clergy at Salisbury dealt with the changing date of Easter.

Before then, signage was really the only mass form of creator-controlled content marketing communications – yet it was geographically locked and not “distributable” as a medium.


“Content Marketing” is really just… well, marketing. There’s nothing really new or innovative about it.

If you disagree… well, I’ll be over here in the corner studying spectacular copywriting in my reprint of the old Sears & Roebuck catalog.

Michael Hiles

CEO 10XTS, INTJ, chaotic good, PDP/11 in '79 (THAT kid), info architect, Milton Friedman, data science, semantics, epistemology, coffee snob, OG hip hop

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