Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The Golden Age

I've seen a number of discussions recently regarding the standards of advertising in the modern day. These range from: 'I remember when ads used to be this good.', to 'I wish long copy was as good as this these days', and ''remember when marketing wasn't full of so much bullshit'.

All of these views make some relevant points, but the problem I see is a very simple one: Advertising has always been largely shit. We just remember the campaigns that aren't, exactly like the general public.

Yes it might seem strange to criticise most of the output of the industry I love, but everyone knows it. Every regular person knows it. Every client knows it. (Perhaps bad clients could argue that the 50's were a golden age, where every ad was full of endorsements, product features and packaging shots...) Everyone in adland knows it. We shouldn't shy away from this fact, because it's what drives those of us who care about creativity to do better. Watching TV and wanting to throw the remote at the screen, that's our opportunity.

Indeed, it is the same as every other creative industry, be that music, film, design, architecture, etc etc. It always has been, and more or less always will be.

Elton singing about Coke with no irony.
Admittedly it's Diet Coke... but STILL!
For every piece of genius long copy that was made in the 70's and 80's, there was also one of waffly, feature blasting junk. For every smart creative TV ad that people adored, there were ten shouty washing powder ads. For every cool, avant garde 90's piece like Guinness Surfer, there were ten post-modern thought-free travesties promoting alcopops. For every Tango Blackcurrant there was Elton John singing about Diet Coke. 

Besides, even if every single campaign made today was amazing, we would still pick the best 10-20% as the ones that were 'really' good anyway.

I think it's hard to argue that there aren't too many people spouting bullshit, particularly regarding big data, social channels and online advertising... still... but this is just the same as the agencies that said radio was dead when TV came along. That's the problem with predicting the future and anticipating audience response, most people aren't ever going to be right. Trusting in the people who guide your brand was vital then, and it's vital now.

Great campaigns like this only came about
 because the products were all identical anyway!
Actually, it's even more important now. With the vast proliferation of available channels, and the wall to wall nature of advertising, having the right, smart people, is crucial. Were those geniuses of the good old days any smarter than the best creatives and planners we have now? Probably not. They made the best of their time, and we make the best of ours. I love the work of John Webster, but his ads for kids didn't have a hugely complex list of do's and don't's that make creativity that much harder. His awesome Hofmeister beer ads didn't have to worry about cute creatures being seen as advertising to children... or at least not at first.

Anyway, The point is. Advertising has always been an industry made up of both smart and creative people, and those who wish they were smart and creative. The good always produce good work, the bad always produce bad. The precise definition of what passes for good and bad will change, as will the issues that inspire both genius responses and bullshit responses. Wishing for a golden era to return is often just a sign that we are worrying too much about the past rather than trying to improve the future. Let the past, both good and bad, inspire us and remind us of what we can achieve - but don't let it get in the way of clear thinking.


Unknown said...
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georgeeparker@msn.com said...

Just pimped ya... "Cos I am a fucking prince.
Cheers/George "AdScam" Parker