The Ultimate Old School Marketing Strategies for E-commerce

Old School Advertising and Traditional Marketing Strategies for Ecommerce

Digital marketing has become the new dominating medium for advertising. Whether it’s optimizing an online storefront or promoting a brand on social media, advertising agencies have shifted their efforts from traditional to digital platforms to help their clients grow. In fact, US social media ad spend reached $43 billion in 2020 and continues to increase year over year, especially in our post-coronavirus ecommerce marketplace.

Although digital advertising may be the new driving force for client growth and sales, there are plenty of tactics, lessons, and strategies young marketers can use from the top advertising pioneers to guide their online campaigns. Whether you have a luxury ecommerce storefront or manage a local mom-and-pop store’s social media channels, here are some of the top old-school lessons you can employ in your digital strategy.

Old Marketing vs New Marketing: What’s the Difference?

Traditional marketing channels are still valuable for businesses to increase their reach to new audiences and introduce their products and services to potential customers. However, old-school ad people had limited avenues to explore, and they didn’t have access to the unlimited data, audience insights, and targeting that modern digital marketers can leverage.

Traditional marketers focused on selling a particular product or service through the narrow channels they had at their disposal, including TV and radio ads, flyers and brochures, magazines and print ads, billboards, and direct mail. They didn’t have the luxury to evaluate how their audience interacted with their campaigns and couldn’t assess marketing analytics from their campaigns to modify their marketing strategies based on the results.

Old-school marketers had to approach their campaigns much differently than modern marketers. It was the wild wild west, and as each decade passed, advertising pioneers would shake up conventions and introduce new strategies, philosophies, and tactics to engage their audiences.

James Walter Thomson, the founder of the J. Walter Advertising Agency, created the standard advertising team model that agencies still use today. He hired writers and artists and formed a creative department at his agency in the late 1870s. His legacy lives on today as Wunderson Thompson, a global advertising firm.

Modern marketing primarily operates in a digital environment. Marketers can create many different campaigns to test on various audiences, regions, and buyer personas. New mediums, such as email marketing, websites, PPC ads, and social media campaigns, allow advertisers to carefully cater their messages based on rich and informative data on the audience they want to reach.

Unfortunately, the endless data and options can stifle creativity, and many modern advertising campaigns can appear bland and uninspired. Let’s dive into some much-needed wisdom from some of our advertising heroes for marketers new to the game. Although they worked in a world before the internet, they still have valuable insights that modern marketers can use today to elevate their campaigns.

Learn From the Greats: Old School Marketing Ideas and Sacred Wisdom

Although portfolio centers may seem outdated to most modern digital marketers, studying the advertising greats will help you implement timeless strategies that your competitors may overlook.

Advertising pioneers may not have advice on lowering ecommerce return rates or the best 3PL ecommerce fulfillment strategies, but understanding their philosophies and approaches to marketing will help take your digital marketing strategy to the next level. Let’s see how we can use some old-school marketing ideas in a modern marketing world.

1. If You Want to Create Interest, Be Interesting

The “Socrates of San Francisco,” Howard Gossage, elevated direct response advertising in an analog world and encouraged his audience to interact and respond to his advertisements. He was known for his entertaining, long-form copy that would entice his readers and build rapport with his audience. He built relationships between the audience and his clients that preempted modern social media and PR-led campaigns.

Gossage understood that advertising is no different than any other form of media that the audience consumes. Every day, we are bombarded with endless options of entertainment that all compete for our attention. Whether it’s a new novel, movie, restaurant, store opening, or video game, we all choose to invest our time into the things that interest us. Although we ignore countless marketing campaigns every day, an advertisement has the potential to grab our attention as long as it resonates with us.

Gossage once said, “The real fact of the matter is that nobody reads ads. People read what interests them, and sometimes it’s an ad.” Ensure you create an advertisement that people would want to see voluntarily. Some of our favorite ads we would willingly watch again on YouTube

Old School Lesson: Treat your advertising campaigns like any other form of entertainment. Give them something that interests them and give them something of value. Court your customer rather than sell to them. If possible, always provide a coupon, incentive, or offer to sweeten the deal.

Source: AdBuzz

2. Advertising is the Art of Persuasion

William Bernbach certainly deserves a spot on the Advertising Mount Rushmore. He was an American advertising executive and copywriter and started one of the most famous and globally recognized advertising agencies in 1949 with James Edwin Doyle and Maxwell Dane.

He revolutionized the advertising industry and brought a more humorous and creative approach to the industry. His copywriting and advertising philosophy centered around persuasion, and he believed only a simple process would “make crystal clear and memorable the message of the advertisement.”

Bernbach was the quintessential mad man and revolutionized advertising. Before Bernbach, copywriters and art departments had little control over the creative marketing process. Account departments would dictate the copy and the layout of the advertisement. Bernbach championed the idea above everything else for an advertising campaign. As the guiding creative force at his agency DDB, he brought the copywriters and art directors together to strategize campaigns around an innovative idea.

He employed simplistic, humorous, and edgy designs to attract readers. He brought Doyle, Dane, Bernbach from a $1 million to a $40 million valued company by the time he retired and produced some of the most revered ads of the 20th century. He oversaw groundbreaking campaigns, such as the Volkswagen Beetle “Think Small” campaign. He utilized black-and-white images, sparse design, and, most importantly, blunt honesty to attract his audience.

The American public perceived Volkswagen Beetles as small, slow, and ugly foreign vehicles. He qualifies the audience’s widely adopted negative impressions of the cars and flipped them upside down. They may not be fast, but they are durable and dependable. They weren’t small and ugly. They were bold and unique.

Most modern advertisers refuse to acknowledge their audiences’ potential negative connotations about their client’s products or services. To be persuasive, you must address the possible pain points and hesitations your audience may have about your products and services. Simply ignoring them will signal to your audience that you have something to hide and leave a dishonest impression. Clear the air and build rapport with your audience with some refreshing honesty. Change the conversation and reposition your products or services to bring them in a new light.

As Bill Bernbach once said, “There are a lot of great technicians in advertising. And unfortunately, they talk the best game. They know all the rules… but there’s one little rub. They forget that advertising is persuasion, and persuasion is not a science, but an art. Advertising is the art of persuasion.”

Modern-day advertising relies too heavily on data and metrics to guide its creative decisions. Never forget that advertising is an art, and the subconscious guides 95% of purchasing decisions.

Sometimes the best way to think big is to think small because the small things sell a product.


Old School Lesson: Make your message clear, straightforward, and persuasive. Understand your audience’s potential hesitations or preconceived notions around your product and service. Qualify their qualms and reinforce a new, more positive message.

3. No Nonsense: The Purpose of Advertising Is To Sell

While Bill Bernbach was known for introducing a uniquely creative marketing approach, Rosser Reeves had a different philosophy. He was an American advertising executive and a pioneer of television advertising, a relatively new medium during his reign in the 1950s.

He believed in no-nonsense slogans and thought the purpose of a great advertisement is to highlight a single, specific benefit of the product or service. Reeves coined the term unique selling proposition (USP), a common marketing concept many advertisers overlook.

Modern marketing is saturated with campaigns that try to be humorous but do little to make their audience chuckle and do less to sell their products. Reeves once said, “I’m not saying that charming, witty, and warm copy won’t sell. I’m just saying I’ve seen thousands of charming, witty campaigns that didn’t sell.”

Super Bowl advertisements cost marketers millions of dollars to showcase a quick 30-second spot but lose all focus on selling for a cheap laugh backed by a trending celebrity endorsement. I’m not saying celebrity collaborations are ineffective, but the purpose of an ad is not to entertain but to sell.

Reeves based his marketing initiatives on a slogan that embodied a unique selling proposition. He believed in repetition and recommended advertising campaigns should have an unchanging single slogan. He said, “Unless a product becomes outmoded, a great campaign will not wear itself out.”

Most modern marketing employs a never-ending roulette of subpar Saturday Night Live skits to try to win over an audience. Reeves believed in utilizing repetition to hammer the unique selling proposition into each viewer’s subconscious exposed to the commercial.

He marketed on behalf of BIC pens, Minute Maid orange juice, M&M’s candies, Colgate toothpaste, and other commercial products. Some brands still use the slogans he devised to this day, including M&M’s “melts in your mouth, not in your hand” slogan. Check out his classic television commercial for Anacin to see his philosophy in action fast, fast, FAST! 

Reeves avoided gimmicks and argued that advertisements had to be factual. He only wanted to campaign on behalf of products that were indeed superior to the competition. He believed advertising wouldn’t save a flawed product: it will only accelerate the brand’s destruction.

Source: Hanlon Creative

Old School Lesson: When you create a product listing, emphasize the unique selling proposition in the title or description. Differentiate your product from the competition and demonstrate your claim with factual evidence to entice prospecting customers. The more you can highlight your USP, the more the customer will associate it with your product.

David Ogilvy is an advertising legend. Known as the “Father of Advertising,” He created one of the most famous and most prominent advertising agencies in the world that still exists today, simply named Ogilvy. He shaped modern advertising and was an integral figure in the post-World War II marketing period. He wrote numerous books on advertising. His most notable work, ‘Confessions of an Advertising Man,’ is still used to teach young marketers the advertising game in marketing classes across the country.

One of Ogilvy’s greatest tenets was to treat the audience with respect, use everyday language, and provide compelling information to persuade the audience to make a purchase. Ogilvy once said, “The consumer isn’t a moron; she is your wife. You insult her intelligence if you assume that a mere slogan and a few vapid adjectives will persuade her to buy anything. She wants all the information you can give her.”

Marketers often fall into a salesman trap and try to use vapid humor, anecdotes, gimmicks, and hacky approaches to try to convince their audience to make a purchase. It’s crucial always to put yourself in the customer’s shoes and craft an informative and straightforward pitch. Ogilvy dictated that “If you can’t advertise yourself, what hope have you being able to advertise anything else.”

He always urged his students and employees never to forget the purpose of advertising: to sell. In his own words, “The more you tell, the more you sell.” Information is one of the most crucial stages of your ecommerce marketing funnel. Give your audience as much information as possible to sell your product.

People may pay attention to your ad by a witty and compelling headline, but the true meat of your pitch is in the product details. Research your products from top to bottom and craft the mundane elements of your product in a compelling way to entice your visitors to purchase.

But don’t try to draft your content like an English class essay. Copy editors can often halt progress on projects due to inane edits and grammar trivialities. Reach your audience by speaking to them the same way you would try to convince a friend to purchase a new golf club or try a new restaurant. You don’t need to use lackluster comedy routines or silly slogans to hook your reader. Elevate your copy and focus on creating a warm and inviting tone.

Ogilvy stressed, “I don’t know the rules of grammar… If you’re trying to persuade people to do something, or buy something, it seems to me you should use their language, the language they use every day, the language in which they think. We try to write in the vernacular.” Since Ogilvy is still one of the world’s top advertising agencies, we can all benefit from his expert advice.

Source: Referral Candy

Old School Lesson: Treat your audience with respect. Give them the facts and speak to them in their own language. Never lose focus of the goal of advertising: to persuade your audience and sell your clients’ products and services.

5. Don’t Be A Cautious Creative

If you recently entered the advertising business, chances are you are a fan of the hit AMC show, Mad Men. It centers around a fictional 1960s advertising firm, and the main protagonist is Creative Director, Don Draper, portrayed by Jon Hamm. The inspiration behind the iconic television character was Art Director George Lois, a renegade with a larger-than-life persona. 

In the late 1950s, Doyle Dane Bernbach hired Lois. After a short tenure, Lois left to start a new advertising firm, Papert Koenig Lois, in 1960, the first advertising agency ever listed on the stock exchange. He spawned dozens of famous and successful advertising campaigns, including “I Want My MTV.” Although he was a controversial figure, his creative energy, and relentless fervor to create groundbreaking ideas helped him become one of the most respected and prestigious advertising icons in the industry.

George Lois is fearless and believes in the power of ingenuity and creativity. Lois once said, “You can be cautious, or you can be creative, but there’s no such thing as a cautious creative.” He also believes that marketers should strive to create unique concepts to stand out from the pack of mediocrity, stating, “Creativity can solve almost any problem. The creative act, the defeat of habit by originality, overcomes everything.”

In today’s digital marketing world, advertising campaigns on social media, email, and other digital mediums are often bland, formulaic, and depend on data to drive campaign strategy. Lois argued, “Advertising, an art, is constantly besieged and compromised by logicians and technocrats, the scientists of our profession who wildly miss the main point about everything we do.”

Digital marketers constantly try to emulate their competitors. Paid Media Specialists will draft PPC campaigns using nearly identical copy from existing competitor ads and switch out a word here and there. Search Engine Optimization Strategists will draft long-form pages and keyword research that mirrors whatever content dominates the search terms they want to rank for in Google. Social Media Advertisers will recycle the same dull copy across various campaigns. The creativity is largely lost.

The problem is most modern marketers let data and their competitors drive their strategy. They fear trying something that stands out from the pack and may challenge their clients’ expectations. However, the purpose of advertising is to grab the attention of an audience. If you are paying thousands of dollars to generate revenue for your clients, why would you create ad content that blends in with all your competitors?

George argued that we must be bold and that ”only with absolute fearlessness can we slay the dragons of mediocrity that invade our gardens.” Challenge your clients and reach for the stars with your ingenuity and originality. If you think you have a great idea, go for it! Bring it to life and pitch your idea with confidence. The bigger your vision, the more likely people will be interested in what you have to offer.

Avoid the standard conventions of our current market trends, and don’t be afraid to experiment. If your ecommerce business has numerous competitors with similar offers, websites, and campaigns, give your audience something that will stand out and make them want to learn more. As George would say, “Because advertising and marketing is an art, the solution to each new problem or challenge should begin with a blank canvas and an open mind, not with the nervous borrowings of other people’s mediocrities. That’s precisely what ‘trends’ are – a search for something ‘safe’ – and why a reliance on them leads to oblivion.”

Source: Fast Company

Old School Lesson: Don’t be afraid to stand out. Don’t be cautious. Get creative and challenge industry norms with fresh concepts and experimental ideas to develop exceptional advertising campaigns.

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