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    What Was The First Piece Of Online Marketing?

    Digital marketing is at the core of nearly every company’s advertising campaigns. With so many people online and the potential to reach audiences much wider than would be available locally, online marketing is essential for growing a company’s potential market.

    A lot of the modern ecosystem for digital marketing and many of the agencies that specialise in advertising online are relatively new and exceptionally adaptable. 

    However, the concept of marketing online absolutely is not, and in fact, the earliest known piece of marketing material sent online predates the internet itself as we know it. Technically it was sent via ARPANET, its early predecessor, all the way back in 1978.

    The message itself was exceptionally simple by the standards of modern marketing emails; it was a simple text message sent by the company DEC (Digital Equipment Corporation, now part of Hewlett Packard), proudly advertising its new mainframe computers.

    Specifically, it was a message by Gary Thuerk, a member of DEC’s marketing team, informing hundreds of people on ARPANET that they were organising an open house event to showcase their DECSYSTEM-20 range of mainframe computers.

    It was a somewhat clumsy campaign, and the first attempt to send it by Carl Gartley accidentally caused some of the addresses in the mailing list to overflow into the message’s body, which they had to fix in order to get the message for them.

    As with all new forms of marketing, it stirred a lot of debate, which was arguably the point. At the time, ARPANET was seen as a system purely for the betterment of research and communication, and discussions about its use in marketing felt like this was in breach of those principles.

    Ironically, Richard Stallman of the Free Software Foundation, then a young research graduate, defended the principle of the marketing messages, only objecting to the accidental exploding of people’s email addresses.

    It is unknown exactly how successful it was but it did lead to a complaint by the caretakers of ARPANET at the time, who claimed it breached their acceptable use policy.

    This policy, which banned commercial use of the Internet, would be lifted in 1991 and lead to the widespread adoption of the Internet for both personal use and for business purposes as well.

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