Come the revolution

A D&AD (Design & Art Direction) member recently posted a blog about the challenges facing older people in the whacky world of advertising, in particular once 50 comes and goes. The comments have been broadly interesting, some just plain grumpy old men (no women) complaining about the state of the industry today.

It is worth pointing out before I comment that certain people remain very high profile – Lord Saatchi, Sir Frank Lowe, Sir Martin Sorrell, Sir John Hegarty, Lord Bell – and none of them will see 50 again; but there is a common theme running through the folk mentioned, no prizes for the correct answer.

The more interesting comments from the creative community harped back to their formative years, most likely the 1960′s, which was quite telling. These people, and me for the record, grew up in a period of massive social change as the post WWII period was a memory for our parents but we were looking forwards to the world changing around us. The revolution taking place in creative pursuits was staggering as any historian of the 20th century would confirm. The Beatles kick started a sea change in contemporary music and they were amongst a generation of like minded people in all forms of creativity such as photography, film, theatre, design, art, etc. It became a global revolution.

The point I suspect is forgotten is the era was without any script, it was all new and exciting. In most cases there was very little control over creative development due to the lack of empirical guidelines, research, planners, and very importantly most clients passed the advertising job firmly to the ad agency, over to you so to speak. The early series of Mad Men was a pretty fair reflective perspective on how the adworld operated.

Just like music, the advertising scene exploded moving from BBC announcer voice overs to rock music creeping in to advertising.

So for those around then the rear view mirror looks very rosy, mainly down to the freedom most creative people enjoyed back then.

What is forgotten is modern advertising in the 70′s and 80′s was the most powerful marketing tool at the disposal of clients, with many competitive brands pushing for a better campaign than their nearest rival. I was at Cadbury in the 70′s and we were constantly at war with Mars on the advertising competition. A very common remark at the time was ‘the advertising is better than the programmes’; then advertising was far more adventurous than TV programmes as the top brass in television were reluctant and slow to embrace the changes in society.

If we jump 40 years we live in the different world and the contemporary creative innovators today hang out in Silicon Valley. The modern version of the revolution in the 60′s is the internet. If you think about it the revolution of the 60′s probably plateaued in the 80′s and maybe we all started to go around in circles a bit, nothing that new or fresh, just trying to fabricate a slightly better mousetrap. Then this new fangled invention called the internet lit the blue touch paper to, at last, another revolution. Everything got thrown up in the air and we all started scratching our heads trying to understand the implications.

Only a short 12 years ago when I was at the Ogilvy helm we conducted research with middle England about the internet and then hosted a client and  journalist day revealing the findings. The overwhelming view of the public was hesitation and concern, not comfortable with buying anything on-line, only trusting well known bricks and mortar brands. The changes since then are seismic. In just 12 years.

So the new kids on the block are those in the on-line world and client companies are obsessed with becoming a real player in this world. Added to this is most clients now believe, often falsely, they understand advertising but that’s another story. The commercial reality is the use of the internet is like a fast conveyor belt, always moving forwards so stepping off it you get left behind very quickly. Just look at Argos for example who got stuck with their bricks and mortar model with catalogues and got left behind. John Lewis however invested heavily in their on-line presence and are reaping the benefits of being far sighted.

Returning to the D&AD running commentary I would suggest it is less of an age thing but more of a bias thing. If a creative has spent most of his/her career making TV commercials it is difficult to embrace a whole new way of doing things, old dogs and new tricks kind of thing.

For the record I still believe outstanding broadcast advertising remains the most powerful tool available to advertisers and will remain so for a long time to come but for dyed in the wool creative people they must accept there is another world that is complimentary, important and not a threat. If the latter is the case then it is probably time to hang up the boots.


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