Advertising is an essential part of the economy and a key driver of productivity. This holds particularly true in the UK, where a melting pot of multiculturalism enables brands and agencies to create campaigns that resonate across international, cultural and socio-economic boundaries to drive real impact. Not to mention the creative powerhouse that is the UK, with its many hubs of technological innovation that range from AI in Cambridge, to gaming in Scotland. All of these come together to form the creative industries. The UK’s number one export and the fastest growing sector of the British economy since the 2008 financial crash. Worth an astonishing £87 billion, it’s more valuable than car manufacturing, or even aerospace.
All of the above is true. But is it interesting?
Personally, when I read this I slump just a little bit lower in my chair and let out a deep sigh. For I have read – and written – paragraphs like that more times than I care to admit.
What is happening now? What will happen tomorrow? Is usually the ask writers tend to get from editors. Don’t get me wrong, this type of work has a time and a place. But as a means of inspiration, something that can be translated into your own work every day? I much prefer learning from the past. After all, look back at creativity in any era and you tend to get a unique insight into what society was like at the time.
In the late 40’s and 50’s brands like Kellogg’s featured overtly sexist slogans “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. Indeed, advertising is a hall of mirrors of our own every day. Pent up within literature, advertising, film, music – anything ‘creative’ is the overall zeitgeist of society. Loves, fears, wants and needs. It’s an astonishing historical resource. What we get from the above taglines are an immediate snapshot of assumed gender roles in society, and the dizzying lack of medicinal knowledge – the kind of society who promotes something that is actively bad for you.
When Craftsmen of Creativity was set, during the creative revolution of the 60’s, there were far fewer ways to distribute ideas. TV, radio, print and scarcely lit billboards. That was more or less it. A creative idea – the backbone of any piece of communication had to have immediate impact. The way products were sold changed dramatically from informative – introducing people to new products they had never seen – to imbuing personalities and lifelike qualities to products and icons. Our Craftsmen and women can be credited with beckoning in these changes. This eventually shifted to what products said about you in a post-war America where middle-class became a rite of passage and keeping up with the Jones’s was real.
Today the story is very different. The democratisation of ideas, and the internet – in many ways – playing the role as a mediator (once held by admen) between buyers and sellers has led Hegarty to write that advertising “is unique in that you don’t have to pay to see it. It’s thrust upon you.” At the beginning of the 20th century, advertisers spent $450 million globally to sell their products. By the end of the century, they were spending close to $450 billion. Today that figure is much, much more.
The difference, between then and now, of course, is effectiveness and reach.
Today we are only able to escape advertising when we sleep. When the next generation looks back on our advertising they’d have to wade through a lot of useless banner ads before they came across the good stuff.