The Origins of “Marketing”

“To Market, To Market”, so goes the nursery rhyme first referenced in 1598. It was passed from generation to generation for two hundred years until printed in Songs for the Nursery in 1805. As a result, it spread and it is thought that families changed the words producing relevant variations. My favorite stanza from the documented version is:

“To market, to market, to buy a plum cake; Home again, home again, market is late. To market, to market, to buy a plum bun; Home again, home again, market is done.”

 Light and fanciful, it ironically communicates shopping frustration: the market does not open on time and then is unexpectedly closed. Yet beckons the consumer as an early advertisement for a range of goods including plum cakes and buns along with hogs and pigs.

Over time we lost the original meaning of “marketing”. The word now almost universally applies to the process or profession of marketing, and is often defined like this mouthful from Wikipedia: as “the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.” Obviously someone was paid by the word.

Marketing is actually the action of buying and selling. It is derived or related to the physical place where people have long 6a00d8345197c969e2019b0140d8c3970c-800witransacted the exchange of goods and services. On an episode of Mad Men, the child-like Betty Draper says, “Carla helped with the marketing.” She was referring to her housekeeper who purchased the ingredients that went into a dinner. That is marketing.

Actual markets have always charmed me. And they are experiencing a renaissance. Meats, produce, fruits, plants and flowers, cheeses, sauces, breads, spices, dips, and crafts produced locally have the positive associations of freshness, quaintness, and a return to practices that make both economic and environmental sense. The fact that these goods have traveled less distance, generally are all-natural, and employ locals are all positives.

These markets or fairs were also called “exchanges” (the financial industry adopted the word “exchanges” for the buying and selling of financial instruments). Markets are actually fun, bustling, social gatherings and are entertaining as many artisans love to present how they grow, make and present their wares. I enjoy taking in the demonstrations and admire when those selling speak with pride about their homemade baking or smoked fish.

Trade in its most basic form has existed ever since we began producing goods in surplus. This was usually agricultural produce that was sold or traded for textiles or earthenware. The physical places of exchange, such as village fairs and local markets, sprung up when one vendor had extra ears of corn or an abundance of rabbits. This led to specialization allowing people to focus on certain goods and services that could be exchanged for other goods they needed.

People have been selling in city squares and from the backs of carts or wagons for centuries the world over. It is actually incredible how similar the practice is from continent to continent, country to country, and town to town. Visit a market in rural China and you will be familiar with the setup and process (though the haggling may be a bit more aggressive). From Santiago, Chile to Paris, France to my favorite summer market in Mont Tremblant, Canada – there is more in common than different amongst these markets.DSC04150-630x420

It was in the earliest markets that practices used in modern marketing were introduced. Centuries ago vendors used street callers to announce their whereabouts for customer convenience predating advertising and promotion. They originated taste tests, couponing, and “2-for-1s”. These entrepreneurs strove for loyalty by treating their customers fairly, remembering their preferences, and customizing service. These practices represented their “go-to-market” strategies – another term that has morphed in meaning over the years.

The practice and profession of “marketing” was turbocharged in the twentieth century but has been present since our earliest days. In fact, Egyptians used papyrus to make brochures and wall posters. Ancient China initiated trade fairs over 3,000 years ago.

Marketing messages have been found in the ruins of Pompeii including one promising a “slaughter of wild beasts, athletic games, perfumed sprinkling, and awnings to keep off the sun”. Villages in the Middle-Ages had signs that used graphics depicting key services to attract the illiterate populace. Those who could, marketed their name with symbols like a hare and a bottle for Harebottle.

The markets of old were extremely competitive because vendors had their very survival at stake. This demanded they be innovative and creative to stand out. That is another phrase originating from marketing – to “stand out” was to have your stand in a prominent location. The origins of marketing and markets are worthy of examination for their many valuable lessons that can be reinterpreted and made relevant today. Recognizing and respecting the origins of marketing could help you be more competitive. As Barbara Grizzuti Harrison said, “There are no original ideas. There are only original people.”


0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *