Direct Marketing | Benjamin Franklin and Lester Wunderman

Heavy Weights of Innovation and Direct Marketing

Direct marketing has been reinventing itself for over 250 years and dates back to when Benjamin Franklin invented the institution of mail order retailing in 1744.

Benjamin Franklin’s contributions to direct marketing is best summarized in a letter to the DM News from 2005 entitled “Don’t Discount Ben Franklin’s Contributions to Direct Marketing”

Trivia: Ben was also our first Postmaster General which is why his pic is on the wall of most post offices.

Direct marketing dates back to before the founding of our country and has been with us throughout our country’s history:

Stamp Act of 1765

Twenty years after Ben launched his mail order retail business, the British imposed the Stamp Act of 1765 on British Americans. The act was a direct tax that forced colonists to print on stamped paper produced in London. The Stamp Act led to the ultimate issue that would eventually hold enter stage up to 1776 was the matter of taxation without representation. Benjamin Franklin had raised this as far back as 1754 at the Albany Congress when he wrote, “That it is suppos’d an undoubted Right of Englishmen not to be taxed but by their own Consent given thro’ their Representatives. That the Colonies have no Representatives in Parliament.” The counter to this argument was the theory of [virtual representation.]- FUNNY:  NO, the British did not invent virtual communications. 

Business Information Reporting and Credit

Dun & Bradstreet traces its history back to 1841, with the formation of The Mercantile Agency in New York City by Lewis Tappan, later called R.G. Dun and Company.  The company was formed to create a network of correspondents (reporters) who would provide reliable, objective credit information. In 1933, Dun merged with competitor John M. Bradstreet to form today’s Dun & Bradstreet. The Data Universal Numbering System (DUNS) was invented in 1962.

D&B spun off the following well known brands –

  • ACNielsen (1996)
  • Cognizant Technology Solutions (1996)
  • Moody’s (1999)
  • (2012)

Dun & Bradstreet also owns the business research corporation Hoover’s.

Dun & Bradstreet acquired data management firm NetProspex on 1/8/2015

American Presidents 

Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, Grover Cleveland & William Mc

Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, Grover Cleveland & William McKinley were all correspondents (reporters) for D&B



Man’s Confidence in Man: a motion picture that recreates stories to show how credit is a part of everyday lives, from small scale purchases to business loans.


lester wunderman youngLester Wunderman, who most consider to be the inventor of direct marketing, in a historic speech at MIT in 1967, outlined his ideas and gave birth to a new industry. He tells the fascinating story of preparing and delivering the presentation in his book Being Direct. He made the case for a new direct marketing that is comprised of several broad-based characteristics (source: by John Gregory Olson):

  • It is a strategy, not a tactic
  • It is where advertising and buying become a single affair
  • It eliminates intermediaries in distribution and communication channels
  • It creates dialogs between buyer and seller
  • It builds dialogs into enduring relationships
  • It is personal, relevant, interactive and measurable
  • In the decades that followed, he oversaw the advent of the direct marketing industry and put these principles into practice.

Wunderman’s vision is still aspirational for digital marketers. We have powerful new media to reach customers and prospects, but continue to work through the challenges to deliver on their expectations. His “Bill of Rights” points to many of those challenges:

  • Being transparent and authentic, and letting go of controlling the message
  • Capturing data that enables more relevant, valuable exchanges without invading privacy
  • Understanding the acceptable frequency of communications
  • Telling relevant brand stories that inform, not self-promote
  • Having conversations with consumers that establish respect and likeability
  • Building relationships through meaningful engagement, not wasted activities
  • Making it easy for consumers to interact and buy
  • Keeping communications succinct

Digital, web, mobile and social marketing are new when you think about the entire two hundred and fifty year history of direct. So this chapter is far from complete and the future keeps getting brighter for every marketer that’s involved in some area of direct marketing (CX, Big Data, whatever)

A fireside chat with Lester Wunderman and Google

I hope this post evokes feelings of nostalgia and heightens everyone’s confidence in our economy and future.


Published by

Rick Vargas

Rick Vargas is a strategic and innovative marketing professional, who has a successful track record of leading teams and projects through periods of change and transformation. Rick is a metrics oriented marketer and a thought leader that brings ideas to reality. Rick's background and domain areas of expertise are in web, social, mobile, digital, direct, and database marketing. He's worked with different types of organizations, across all sectors, from small start-ups, to large multi-national corporations. "What motivates me most is the role I play and the impact I have on the success of those around me. I love what I do from social to direct." - Rick Vargas

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