Take a look back at early-20th-century advertising and you’ll forgive us for being grateful it is no more.
Major brands including Kellogg’s featured sexist slogans like “The Harder a Wife Works, The Cuter She Looks”. Whilst other brands touted purely fictional pseudoscience; Think Camel cigarettes as being “The Doctor’s Favorite Brand,” or ads promoting cola consumption by babies as case in point.
Back then, creativity was an afterthought to client’s needs. Work lacked courage and curiosity. Repetitive jingles with lacklustre copy were forcibly etched into the minds of consumers. Creatives were seen as paintbrushes for hire, few women graced agency offices, and the entire industry paid lip service to the past.
There’s a joke that characterizes the period perfectly. It goes: “What time is it?” asked a client. “What time would you like it to be?” answered the account executive. It’s an ample representation of the client-agency relationship of the era.
This all changed, as we saw in Episode 1, when baby boomers came of age and tidal change ensued. Baby boomers were tired of doing what they were told. Bored of doing the same as their parents did. And from social issues like civil rights to the arts and advertising this new generation was looking to disrupt the status quo.
With that, advertising took on a world of its own. The industry mastered TV, appropriated the medium of photography for more than just demonstrative product shots, and produced work of unprecedented creativity. Rather than looking to the past, advertising finally stood up straight and began facing forward. This became less about educating the masses about novel products, but shifting the needle toward catering for a swelling middle-class with disposable income for the very first time.
The change started with seeds sewn by a tenacious few who were brave enough to speak up.
Legendary creatives like Sir John Hegarty wanted to translate the unprecedented cultural-revolution occurring on the streets of London into the soul of his work. He did this in his own unique way. Fed up with his square agency, where he held his first job, he played pranks on the account, or ‘yes’ men who did whatever clients wanted.
Bill Bernbach pioneered the copywriter/Art Director partnership that still holds true today. Much of this series can be attributed to him. For the New York born maverick crafted classy campaigns that shifted products whilst unapologetically going against the herd. That will be revealed in episode 4.
Paula Green, in episode 3, about as close to a real-life Peggy Olson as you’ll find, inspired by Bernbach, created campaigns for the world-famous agency DDB that unashamedly showcased the struggles she faced as an agency woman. Indeed, she can be credited with the Avis tagline “We are number 2 so we try harder” that transformed the struggling rent-a-car brand into a household name. That tagline ran for many years after, and as Green describes, is “In some ways the story of my life.”
As we gear up to release the final 3 episodes of S1 of Craftsmen of Creativity it seems only fair that we pay tribute to the brave men and women whose form of creative activism led to profound change throughout the industry. Stories like these, both unique and absurd in equal measure, shine a fascinating light on an industry that has moved rapidly ever since.
It’s important not to forget where you’ve come from.