The History of Direct Mail--A Satirical Perspective (Part I)
I read somewhere that around 1000 B. C. or so, an Egyptian landowner wrote what is considered by some worldwide direct marketing experts to be the earliest identifiable example of direct advertising. It was an advertisement on a piece of papyrus for the return of a runaway slave. The original was actually exhumed from the ruins of Thebes and can now be seen in the British Museum.
Whether or not the Egyptian landowner found his slave is unknown. Since we do not have the result to measure the effectiveness of the "return-my-slave" effort, I am forced to conclude that the campaign was a direct marketing failure. Direct marketing is a finitely measurable media. Measurability sets direct marketing apart from general advertising and other forms of marketing. Direct marketers can measure the response to any offer.
Later, the Babylonians would use bricks as a means of distributing direct advertising to individuals. Guess their BPS (Babylonian Postal Service) didn't have any weight regulations for third class or bulk mail. I think this is the genesis of the phrases "hits you like a brick wall" and "in your face" advertising. Interestingly, it was about this time that the first rotator cuff surgeries were performed. Apparently brick marketing also spawned the need for Babylonian HMO's.
Writing was not a common skill among the elite of the day (cave art was still big) and thus the development of direct marketing techniques was slow. In fact nothing much happened until Steve Gutenberg's (the fine Actor of Police Academy fame) Great, Great, Great, Great Grandfather-Gutenberg "the printer" invented the movable type printing press around the early 1430's. This nimble gadget-about the size of a current day USPS delivery truck-enabled Gutenberg to churn out mass-produced literature in record speed. He did Bibles in about...oh...say a year-at-a-time. Big stuff! The development of printing techniques would drive direct marketing advertising pretty much up until today.
Later in the century, in England, a printer by the name of William Caxton set-up the first English printing press in Westminster Abbey in 1471 and printed his first hand-bill around 1480. With this hand-bill, the Age of direct marketing was born...