The Founding Fathers of Direct Marketing

26th March 2019

For businesses worldwide, direct marketing is a fundamental way to communicate with customers, build brand awareness and essentially, sell a product or service. But who really pioneered direct marketing? Our article takes a look at the individuals regarded as founding fathers of direct marketing…


Lester Wunderman (1920-2019)

Lester Wunderman was an American advertising executive who famously named and defined the term ‘direct marketing’ during his speech at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1967. Wunderman is widely recognised as the creator of modern-day marketing. His innovative initiatives include loyalty rewards programs, the magazine subscription card, the toll-free 1-800 number and many more.

When employed as copywriter in 1947, Wunderman introduced and developed a unique marketing approach to improve the business’ mail order accounts. He used the means of clients’ mailboxes to develop a more personal connection with prospect customers, using direct mail and magazine inserts – it was this practice that form some of the direct marketing techniques we employ today.

To develop his idea of direct marketing, Wunderman went on to establish his own marketing agency with his brother and two colleagues, Wunderman, Ricotta & Kline. The business generated more than $2million during its first year and worked with clients such as American Express, which birthed the very first customer rewards program.

In 1983, Wunderman was elected to the Direct Marketing Hall of Fame and then to the Advertising Hall of Fame in 1998. He also is the author of two books, ‘Frontiers of Direct Marketing’ and ‘Being Direct: Making Advertisers Pay’.


Aaron Montgomery Ward (1843-1913)

Ward is also considered a founder of both direct mail and direct marketing. In 1872, the Chicago-born entrepreneur started a mail order business, Montgomery Ward & Company, with a one-page catalogue that was distributed to people living in rural towns. Ward thought these people were being overcharged by the small-town retailers, as they relied heavily on them for general merchandise.

Ward’s catalogue was printed using the most advanced methods of the time and was mailed to customers, allowing them to see pictures of a much larger product stock than they were used to. Montgomery Ward & Company was generating over $1million by the year 1888 and was in operation until 1995.


Richard Warren Sears (1863-1914)

Having grown up on a farm, Sears knew the needs of customers in rural areas. After setting up his own business selling watches, he began to place advertisements within farm publications and mailing flyers to his prospects.

Sears was an early adopter of the personal approach within direct marketing and spoke directly to small-town communities to entice them into purchasing items by mail-order.

The first catalogue was distributed in 1893 and by 1896, Sears’ catalogue was mailed to more than 300,000 US addresses and featured over 500 products. Additional items such as clothing, silverware, sewing machines and bicycles were added to the offering in 1897.

Sears as we know it today, is a huge chain of department stores and as of last year, it was listed as the 31st largest retailer in the United States.


These three pioneers have enjoyed tremendous success through their development and use of direct marketing. The growth of their businesses and widespread adoption of their techniques is testament to the credibility of direct marketing practices.

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