History’s cool. Digital marketing is cool. Can I haphazardly combine the two together?
Here are four occurrences throughout human history that I think reflect some key pillars of modern digital marketing and PR, as well as some useful lessons that all marketers can learn from them.
SEO – Welsh village changes name
The vast majority of people in the UK are aware of that place in Anglesey, Wales that has the most mind-bogglingly Welsh name in creation.
It’s got 59 letters — with approximately half of them being L — and is impossible to pronounce (let alone spell) unless you’re born on the west side of the Severn Bridge.
Previously Llanfair Pwllgwyngyll, the story of how the town of
got its name is an excellent parable for demonstrating the effectiveness of search engine optimisation…and why it can take some time to get results!
According to the village’s website, it all started in the mid-18th Century with the construction of a railway between Chester and Holyhead.
Llanfair PF (official abbreviation) was a small provincial stop somewhere along this line.
As train activity increased and the potential for riches from tourism became possible, the villagers reckoned that they needed something to help them stand out.
A committee was thus formed in the 1860s, tasked with thinking of ways to increase the traffic coming to — rather than just through — their village.
After some deliberation, and in what can only be described as a dynamite example of picking the right keyword to reach your target audience, a local cobbler said, “Why don’t we have the longest village name in the world?!”
It was a winning idea. The villagers changed the sign on their station (their equivalent of a great H1), meaning it caught commuters’ attention as they passed through.
From there, it worked like a charm. People took note. They visited.
Over the next few decades, people even moved there (SEO takes time and patience!), and Llanfair PF became one of the main commercial centres for the surrounding area.
In fact, it was one of the few places in rural Wales to actually grow in size during this period!
These days, Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch is known worldwide.
Welsh celebrities are regularly asked to pronounce it on US chat shows because it’s so quirky….it even gets 15 million views on YouTube and makes national news when a weatherman nails it!
All that exposure, all thanks to a simple idea from a not-so-simple shoemaker.
Not bad at all.
Lessons for marketers
- Do your keyword research
- Make sure you put the key terms in the right places (headers etc)
- Be prepared to be in it for the long-haul
PPC – The Berners Street Hoax
Or, alternatively, the earliest example of a DDoS attack
While SEO concerns building for the long-term, its more agile counterpart Pay-Per-Click is about getting traffic as quickly as possible, but at a cost.
With that in mind, I couldn’t think of a more perfect example from the pre-Internet age than the Berners Street Hoax.
This tale takes place in Georgian London in late 1810.
At this time London was the largest, most prosperous city in the world and the centre of an Empire that was about to become the sole imperial power on the planet.
Britain’s position as the dominant force on the seas meant trade was now possible with every continent, and this combined with the burgeoning Industrial Revolution on the domestic front meant the capital was jam-packed full of activity.
But, for one day in November 1810, a part of it was brought to a complete standstill…all thanks to a bet between two scallywags called Theodore Hook and Samuel Beazley.
Hook — a composer and playwright that, rather appropriately, specialised in farces — bet Beazley that he could turn any address in London into the most well-known and discussed place in the whole city.
He selected 54 Berners Street — a street in Westminster that ran perpendicular to Oxford Street, and one that was right in the epicentre of London life.
Hook’s plan was simple, mischievous, and effective.
Over a few weeks, he and a group of helpers managed to write thousands of letters, all supposedly from the resident at number 54 Berners Street, a ‘lady of fortune’ called Mrs Tottenham.
Once they had them all ready, they were sent.
Mrs. Tottenham requests Mr. _ will call upon her at two to-morrow, as she wishes to consult him about the sale of an estate. 54, Berners- Street, Monday.
An example of one of the many letters sent by Theodore Hook for the Berners Street Hoax
These missives sent out by Hook’s team requested various goods deliveries and meetings at Berners Street, all to take place on the same day, with each written with a specific audience in mind.
And, on the 27th of November, chaos reigned on Berners Street.
Such was the effectiveness of Hook’s campaign, poor Mrs Tottenham — who was an unwilling participant — received dozens of deliveries of goods including jewellery, cakes, coal, furniture, rabbits, poultry, a made-to-measure coffin, and “six stout men bearing an organ”.
The method used was tantamount to writing the perfect Adwords copy for each of your audience segments.
Also visiting were a variety of tradespeople; opticians, barbers, miniature-painters, artists of every description, auctioneers, undertakers, grocers, mercers, past-chaises, and mourning-coaches all arrived at Berners Street.
Not only that, several supposed appointments had been arranged that also saw servants, doctors, priests, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lord Mayor of London, and even the Governor of the Bank of England turn up!
Police were scrambled to try and keep order on Berners Street.
As well as all of those summoned by Hook’s letters, the police also had to control a growing crowd that were fascinated by the disruption and were watching inquisitively.
The campaign had, quite literally, got some traffic.
With large urban dwellings such as London being a result of rapid social change, many Londoners seeing the Berners Street Hoax first-hand would be experiencing a lively reminder that they not only lived in such close proximity to so many people, but had such a variety of resources at their disposal!
After the chaos subsided the authorities put out an appeal for information for the perpetrator, although Hook was never caught…
…but it’s safe to say that, if Theodore Hook was writing ads for Google these days, it’s fair to assume he would’ve had one hell of a Quality Score!
Lessons for marketers
- Make sure you segment audiences and serve relevant ads to each
- Write copy that is engaging and moves people through the funnel
- Don’t have a crap landing page when they finally arrive
- Make sure your website can handle all the traffic you’re sending to it!
Social Media — Martin Luther’s 95 Theses
Medieval social sharing leads to religious upheaval
One of the most important inventions in human history is without question the movable type printing press.
Introduced to Europe in the 1400s, the ability to produce multiple copies of literature both at greater speed and at a much lower cost led to an information revolution in the following decades.
Whereas previously political and religious ideas had to be spread by the movement of people — either a group congregating at church, or a preacher moving from village to village — printing made this process far more efficient.
The format of choice at the time was the humble pamphlet. Small and portable, printing pamphlets en masse meant information could be shared quickly and across borders.
Furthermore, messages remained consistent. No points could be distorted via ‘Chinese whispers’ effect of verbal communication!
The most famous early example of this epic spread of knowledge stems from the work of a seminal figure in the Protestant Reformation, Germany’s Martin Luther.
Luther was professor of Theology at Wittenberg University. Over time, through his study and through attending Church, he had become disillusioned with aspects of the teachings of Catholic doctrine.
In particular, he questioned the practise of the Church selling to people ‘indulgences’ — essentially vouchers that supposedly reduced the severity of particular sins when a person’s soul was being measured in purgatory to decide whether they entered Heaven or Hell.
He noted that once people had bought these indulgences from the Church, they didn’t feel they needed to repent for their sins any longer — something surely at odds with the true intent of the Bible.
Luther spent a good portion of 1517 writing what is potentially the most famous document in the history of the Protestant faction of Christianity: the ’95 Theses’.
He made dozens of succinct points on what he saw as perceived discrepancies between the prose within the Bible and the actions and ceremonies of the Catholic Church.
When he had finished the 95 Theses, the professor walked over to the Wittenberg Church and nailed a copy of to the door, in the hope of starting a reasoned academic discussion about the points made.
But his work struck a nerve.
Before long, and akin to a post on Twitter getting thousands of retweets, the 95 Theses were quickly copied onto pamphlets, translated, and distributed all over Europe.
Friedrich Myconius, a fellow German theologian and a friend of Luther wrote that “hardly 14 days had passed when these propositions were known throughout Germany and within four weeks almost all of Christendom was familiar with them.”
Luther was trending worldwide.
His ideas had captured the imaginations of many, many people — and they couldn’t stop sharing it!
Millions of copies of his works were distributed in the first decade of what soon became known as the Protestant Reformation. His work had gone well and truly viral.
Luther later admitted that he would’ve “spoken far differently and more distinctly had I known what was going to happen.”
Lessons for marketers
- Keep it pithy — there’s a reason why listicles are so effective
- Make sure you’re using the same social network as your audience
- Make use of the recently updated ‘thread Tweets’ functionality
- Write carefully and with consideration — you never know who or how many people might want to critique your work
Public Relations — Jesus
Holy crap it was effective!
Continuing the religious theme, let’s go right to the top of the tree.
Jesus was the master of PR. He had succinct messaging, used the human interest angle incredibly effectively in his storytelling, and built a massive community that prevails to this day.
He created a buzz and courted controversy — a well-established PR tactic for getting engagement and results — and garnered huge reactions that pushed his messages even further.
His PR stunts weren’t too bad either.
Feeding 5,000 with five loaves and two fish? Nowadays this would be a Guinness World Record attempt for ‘World’s Biggest Tapas Party’. Shout-out to Mark Nelson for that joke.
Walking on water? So good that it’s actually a bit of a London PR industry in-joke when agencies try to pay homage to it.
And the Resurrection? So effective it’s still celebrated every year.
Should a Second Coming arise, it would be interesting to see what a contemporary PR strategy document might look like…
Lessons for marketers
- A simple story is a strong one
- Controversy, when used correctly, can lead to big wins
- Build loyal followers and use them as ambassadors to help spread your key messages
- Everyone loves a good PR stunt!