Where to begin? How about cave paintings that date back to 4,000 BC? (Rumor has it that an exceptional image of the first Apple iPhone was found in the Paleolithic caves of Lascaux, France. That's how far ahead of the times Steve Jobs was.) And then there are the Egyptians, who used papyrus to make sales messages and wall posters. Commercial messages and political campaign displays have been found in Pompeii. (They became very hot.)
China began making paper (not outsourced) in the 1st century. In the 9th century, they started block printing. They created "advertisements," using the forms of lotuses and clouds on decorated paper. The ads described the variety, quality and characteristics of the commodity, as well as the address of the store. The concept is actually quite similar to modern ads.
Now let's go Gutenberg. Johannes created the movable-type printing press in the mid-15th century. It's been game-on for marketers ever since. In 1477, Englishman William Caxton was one of the first to print handbills: "Pyes * * * of Salisbury * * * good and chepe * * * if it pleas any man spirituel or temporel to bye." The ad offered printed "Pyes," or clerical rules, telling how the clergy at Salisbury dealt with the changing date of Easter.
The first printed ad in America appeared in 1704 in the Boston News Letter. It advertised "notices of houses, lands, ships, vessels, or merchandise to be sold or let, or servants run away, or goods stole or lost." In 1869, George Rowell sold advertisers blocks in newspapers and developed an advertising rate directory. N.W. Ayer & Sons became one of the largest ad agencies. J. Walter Thompson convinced magazines like Harpers and Atlantic monthly to run ads.
We could go on, but the point is that advertising has inexorably changed our lives. It creates awareness, conveys knowledge, endows people with choices, enables companies to profit and drives economies. Is it all good? No, there are numerous examples of egregious hyperbole and falsity, slander and fraud. But advertising spurs inquiry, research, scrutiny; it makes people think about choices. It advances consumer perception and judgment. If a company convinces you to buy an iron that doesn't heat up, well, that's on you. (Wrinkled and challenged is no way to live.) But good products that are advertised intelligently and honestly make life better. Just ask that caveman who bought the first iPhone.