Advolution – The Printing Press

By Richard Doyle

The next part of the Advlotuion series is here! Last time we saw some of the first examples of advertising back in Ancient Rome, this time we will be looking at the creation of the printing press and how it revolutionized advertising! 

The printing press was invented in 1440 by Johannes Gutenberg, and it didn’t just change advertising but the whole world. This new tool allowed for the ink to be printed on paper automatically and extremely fast. 

But how would this affect advertising? 



Before the printing press, people couldn’t read as books were expensive and very rare, so most advertising was purely vocal or imagery. After the invention people could finally read, and with it came the first great channel advertisers: the newspaper. 

Weekly newspapers soon became common in many big cities of Europe and advertisers realized there was something being read consistently and by everyone. Thus print ads came to be!


The First Print Ad

What was the first print ad? - Quora

Believe it or not, the first-ever print ad is intact! In 1447 William Caxton created the first printed advertisement, promoting a kind of handbook or manual for priests. The specific strategies he took are shockingly identical to the ones we see today!

The ad above reads “If it plese any man spirituel or temporel to bye ony pyes of two and thre commemoraios of Salisburi use empryntid after the forme of this preset lettre whiche ben wel and truly correct, late hym to come to Westmonester in to the almonry at the reed pale and he shal have them good chepe. Supplicio stet cedula (please do not remove this handbill).” 

It’s probably still a bit hard to read, so I’ll translate and point out a couple cool specific strategies used in this.

“empryntid after the forme of this preset” means ‘imprinted after the from of this preset.’ This refers that the text style used for the handbook is the same as the ones in this message. Caxton realizes his audience prefers a specific style of text so he promotes that to the reader. 

“he shal have them good and chepe” means ‘he shall have them good and cheap.’ This obviously is promoting that the product is not only of high quality but of affordable cost, a message we see in almost any product today. 


Trade Cards

Now that reading was more common, many tradesmen or retailers would print out cards that listed their products and descriptions, as well as directions on how to get to the store. These were great advertising tools because it now allowed for a customer to learn a place’s products without going there in person. These cards were commonly used as time went on and even evolved into our modern business cards.


The Beginning of Copywriting!

Colonial Era Advertisements

As you can see above the copywriting at the start of this new era of advertising was a bit blunt, but the strategies are still there. Quite brilliantly, they said the ground coffee was very good, not just good!


What to Take Away

An audience’s abilities and a strategic media platform are extremely important. The printing press allowed print ads to be made because the consumers could finally read them, and ads flocked to newspapers because it was a popular media platform. This never changes no matter how much technology does. Look at social media for example.

As social media became mainstream advertisers flocked to it because it became a media platform just like newspapers. Wide-scale advertising needs a strategic channel to promote on, without it you’re left relying on having a guy stand outside your shop flipping a giant sign that says “SALE!” There’s always going to be new platforms the general population will put their attention into, and this is where advertising thrives.


Next time we will look at the industrial revolution to see how the new technologies impacted the world of advertising!



Caxton Prints the First Book Advertisement in the English Language. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Colonial Era Advertisements. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Crane, B. (n.d.). A Brief History of Trade Cards. Retrieved from


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