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The ultimate ad.

The ultimate ad.

Mike Doane

This simple form of advertising creates value before purchase, fosters word of mouth, and creates fear of missing out all in one go.

Too good to be true? Here's how the postcard became the number one tool for advertising a $1.45 trillion dollar industry.

The best ads benefit both the buyer and the advertiser. They give something of value before the consumer even buys into what's being sold. This is why giveaways are so popular.

Great ads also foster word of mouth. We all know that word of mouth marketing is one of the most effective forms of advertising.

But what if you could create an ad that delivered value before purchase AND fostered word of mouth all in one go?

That's exactly what the Works Projects Administration (WPA) accomplished when they turned their National Parks posters into postcards.

Simple, yet effective

Postcards were the perfect advertising tool in a world where instant communication didn't exist. They were snapshots of the fun or majesty of a place without the wait time of developing photographs.

Someone could purchase one on location, write a quick personalized message bragging about how great their trip was going, and then deliver up that elusive fear of missing out that every marketer is chasing to friends and family from wherever they were.

In a world that was only starting to become accustomed to tourism as a lifestyle, these early advertisements are a large part of why this international industry is now worth $1.45 trillion dollars.

An ad doesn't need to feel like an ad

That's the simple beauty of the postcard. It was a crowdsourced form of advertising that people wanted to engage with.

They'd happily pay a couple cents for the card and postage to send it off to a friend back home.

And there is sentimental value in an ad like this. Companies like Anderson Design Group still make a lot of money by banking on the nostalgia of postcards.

But the real question is this: what is the modern equivalent to the postcard?

Find that, and you'll find an incredible way to tap into the power of word of mouth.

— Mike Doane