History Repeats

The First Advertisements

William Caxton set up the first printing press in England. Caxton was a merchant by trade, but learned printing later in his life. He is responsible for being the first to print many well-known books, including Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales (BBC). He was also, the first to publish an ad in English.

Caxton's First Ad

In 1477 Caxton printed an ad that announced that the first book was for sale at his print shop. This ad is seven lines of simple text that tells the public what, where, when, and how much. Caxton printed the ad on small scrap papers he had around his shop, and then posted them on church doors. This method was quickly embraced as a form of communication. Caxton and his competitors also posted ads in other public areas such as walls of buildings and fences.


In the early 1800s paper was scarce, and business owners were only able to have a few lines of text in the paper. No pictures – just words. In a paper full of text, people recognized that in order to sell their merchandise they needed to make their ads stand out. So, advertisers started to write slogans and repeated these slogans three times in the same ad. The three lines of the same text made the ad stand out from all the other lines of text, and once the customer already knew about the product, the seller just needed to remind them that it was for sale. Slogans were a memorable trigger. Even when paper became more abundant, slogans stuck, as they proved to be a successful way for the public to recognize a brand.

Even during the dawn of advertising, repetition was important, just as it is today.



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