From ancient civilizations to the “mad men” of the 1960s, people have relied on a host of marketing tactics to promote their services, products, and brands.

But over the years, techniques have changed. Along the way, papyrus posters were replaced with print ads, and later, digital ones. Meanwhile, evolving technologies, behavior, and consumer expectations require that marketers regularly reassess their strategies. While some tactics prove to be worth keeping around, others are better reinvented, or even left behind.

How do your favorite old-school marketing tactics stack up? Let’s take a look.

The Press Release

Legend has it that this time-honored marketing tool got its start in the early 1900s when a publicity expert released a statement about a train that had derailed in Atlantic City. Since then, reporters have relied on press releases to inform them of breaking news and events. These dispatches used to pile up on fax machines, but today they’re primarily sent by email. Is this update enough to make them worthy of a spot in your marketing strategy?

Verdict: Change

According to Christine Curtin, account manager at Uproar PR, today’s press releases “need to be more visual” by incorporating images, videos, and charts. They must also be very concise. “It’s not enough to just rely on the wire service anymore,” Curtin says. “Companies or agencies should send the release outside of the traditional newsroom to influencers and bloggers to ensure maximum visibility.”

The Testimonial

The idea of promoting positive customer interactions by incorporating testimonials into ad campaigns makes perfect sense. One marketing survey found that more than 60 percent of today’s business-to-business (B2B) marketers use testimonials, making it the most widely used customer marketing activity. When actual customers share their satisfying experiences, consumers considering a purchase are likely to listen up.

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Verdict: Keep

Testimonials shared through printed marketing materials, websites, and social media feeds remain a valuable tool for brands.

The Celebrity Endorsement

Similar to testimonials, celebrity endorsements have always made use of positive word-of-mouth. Whether the endorsement comes from an actor, athlete, or other public personality, it leverages that celebrity’s authority — whether actual or perceived — to emphasize a product’s worth. So, should we continue to slap an actor’s image on an ad today? Does this approach take full advantage of your arsenal of marketing channels?

Verdict: Change

With so many opportunities to partner with social influencers at your disposal, it’s time to trade in the outmoded celebrity endorsement for a newer, more relevant model that maximizes both social media and online word-of-mouth.

Newspaper Ads

Ad execs get a kick out of seeing century-old newspaper ads for cough syrup and mystery tonics. But weekday newspaper circulation numbers have been declining for years as consumers gravitate toward digital sources and social networks like Facebook to get their news.

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Verdict: Toss

If you’re working to reach a local audience, newspaper ads might still fit the bill, but you’re likely to see higher return on investment from online social-media ads.


It may seem as though radio has gone the way of the dinosaur, but that’s only because modern radio campaigns don’t get much press. Not only is radio still going strong, but digital technology has expanded your radio advertising options. Nielsen reports that 93 percent of American adults listen to network radio weekly, while Edison Research has found that 57 percent tune in to online radio every month. Whether they’re commuting in their cars or working in an office environment, consumers count on radio for both information and entertainment.

Verdict: Keep

Broadcast radio is a cost-effective way to get your message out to the masses, but be sure to weave in internet radio — offered by companies like iHeartRadio and Pandora — and podcasts, too. These tools provide precise targeting capabilities and allow you to align your brand with quality digital content.

30-Second TV Spots

Since the days when consumer packaged goods companies sponsored midday soap operas, 30-second TV ads have been a fundamental part of the TV viewing experience. Advertisers have changed their approach to fit the times, so that most ads still feel relevant and many even incite consumers to keep watching rather than running to the kitchen for a snack. With the rise of DVRs, streaming video, and ad blocking, though, traditional TV advertising is due for even more of an update.

Verdict: Change

Advertisers now have the ability to purchase highly targeted ads on streaming TV services to ensure that they reach consumers. To keep audiences engaged, TV networks are experimenting with running fewer, more exciting ads, while brands are partnering with popular series to create standard network-TV commercials that don’t just hawk a product, but rather relate to the story being told on the screen. In other words, get ready for a full-on TV transformation.

Live Events

Many a brand manager will tell you that event marketing is an excellent way to engage a customer base by creating an opportunity to experience a product or service firsthand. Consumers respond to in-person communications, whether they take the form of a live demo, pop-up store, trade show booth, or real-time experience that plays out online.

Verdict: Keep

Today’s consumers crave experiences, and marketing events entice them. “When it comes to brands, the most distinctive live events are often multi-sensory,” says Christina Mannatt, associate director of global marketing with branding agency Brand Union. “This allows attendees to choose how they engage with the environment, and thereby creates a singular experience.” Enhance your live events with virtual reality, live-stream them to reach a broader audience, or invite your customers to share photos and video of how they interacted with your brand. All are good ways to increase your exposure and generate online buzz.


Newsletter marketing evolved into e-newsletter marketing about a decade ago, creating a direct line of communication between brands and customers that can be easily measured and optimized. From small businesses to big ones like Patagonia and AARP, brands use newsletters to share company news, useful information, customer stories, and more.

Verdict: Keep

There are few industries that don’t benefit from sending out a newsletter by email. This tactic is well-equipped to promote interaction, build credibility, and establish trust, especially when used to tell an interesting story about the brand.

Direct Mail

Direct mail has long alerted targeted consumers to current sales and promotions. But it has its downside: There’s a chance your message will be perceived as junk mail and end up in the recycling bin — a hard pill to swallow given the high cost of printing and mailing all of those flyers. So what’s a brand to do?

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Verdict: Change

“In a time when the average person receives 88 emails per day, physical mail has become a novelty and is ripe with opportunity to make an impact,” Mannatt says. She points to a direct-mail campaign for activewear startup Girlfriend Collective that distributed leggings to consumers and encouraged them to post photos of the product online. “They didn’t spend money with the hope that consumers would eventually land at the end of purchasing funnel. They spent money so consumers would definitively wear their product, and have gained thousands of brand advocates in the process.” Updated for the digital age, direct mail definitely has its perks.


“Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there” is a slogan consumers won’t soon forget, yet the use of a slogan isn’t as common as it was 50 years ago. Rather, many brands now choose to publicize their mission statement. The purpose of a slogan, after all, is to illustrate a brand’s value, motivate customers, and inspire employees. All of this can be achieved in many other ways.

Verdict: Toss

“Slogans were created in an era when advertising and packaging were the only available mediums to reach consumers,” Mannatt says. “Though still in use today, modern brands are now defined and expressed through things like cultural values, corporate social responsibility, diversity initiatives, overarching tone of voice, typography, color palettes, and brand partnerships.” So while big brands like McDonald’s (“I’m lovin’ it”) and Nike (“Just do it”) may still benefit from having a slogan recognizable to multiple generations, you’re better off conveying your values in more meaningful ways.

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