Advertising’s blast from the past

John Foust
By John Foust, Advertising Trainer

In order to look ahead to a new advertising idea, sometimes it helps to take a look at the past. When an advertiser has been in business for a number of years, there are plenty of possibilities.

Let’s take a look at a few idea-starters. Although there’s some natural overlap, it helps to examine each one separately: 

  1. Years of experience: This is a good starting point. You can either talk about the number of years the company has been in operation, or you can emphasize the cumulative years key members have been on the team. For example, “We have been in business for 75 years,” or “Our service team has a total of 312 years of experience.”

By themselves, these facts don’t mean much – and in fact, could indicate that the company is outdated and out of touch with today’s consumers. The secret is to connect an age-related statistic to a specific benefit: “Our service team has 312 years of overall experience. This means we have encountered – and successfully diagnosed – just about every plumbing problem.”

This kind of information could become the main subject of an image ad campaign – or be shortened to be used as a tagline throughout that company’s marketing.

  1. Business anniversary: Of course, any business can celebrate an anniversary, even if it’s for one year in operation. An anniversary just means more when it’s an impressive number.

Your advertiser could throw a party to celebrate the anniversary of when they opened their doors. They could invite customers to drop by for a slice of birthday cake or have a sale featuring “throwback prices” on selected products.

  1. Archives: You advertisers may have a wealth of inspiration in their files. Anything that documents the start and growth of a business can spark ideas. Photos can illustrate the construction of branch offices, the history of relationships with existing customers, or the evolution of flagship products.

You might be surprised at what you find: internal newsletters, early brochures on products that became best sellers, maybe even old copies of ads that announced special events.

  1. Profile of founder(s): A conversation with – or about – the people who started the company can uncover some fascinating facts. Could one of these tidbits become the theme of an ad?
  2. Then and now (what’s changed, what hasn’t?): Think of the “New look, same great taste” label we see on so many packaged goods.

When a company has been around for a long time, change is a consideration. Obviously, some older things have been good enough to keep and some things are newer and better. Those things – both old and new – can be selling points.

Have the advertiser’s product lines expanded since the beginning? Are there new locations? New hours?

Does the company still have the customer service focus it had in the beginning? Is that philosophy in a frame – and can it be photographed?

It adds up to this: sometimes, a blast from the past is just what the idea process needs.

(c) Copyright 2020 by John Foust. All rights reserved.

John Foust has conducted training programs for thousands of newspaper advertising professionals. Many ad departments are using his training videos to save time and get quick results from in-house training. E-mail for information:

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