In the 70s and 80s, London’s advertising business enjoyed a golden age and was the envy of the world. Most people over 40 can remember dozens of famous campaigns that became part of the culture and social history of the time. We still unthinkingly quote and refer back to old campaigns for Guinness, Carling, Heineken, Yellow Pages, oxo, Persil, VW, Coke, Pepsi, B&H and so on.
In the intervening decades a few things changed – driven by new technology, legislative oversight and competition.
Legislation and regulation addressed some of the financial anomalies. For example the 1987 Pliatsky Report which uncovered malpractices like over-charging for production, to claw back money sacrificed to win competitive pitches with low rates.
There was a massive growth in global competition – first from the US but later from everywhere.
Business culture evolved, with less appetite for risk and greater focus on efficiency and economy. Less pain, less gain but more certainty. The industry became global and corporate. Boutique shops became the exception as the industry was dominated by massive global players like WPP and Omnicom.
Above all, technology leapt forward, shifting the emphasis from the unreliable world of creativity and ideas to the seemingly more dependable world of targeting and efficiency. The creative industry became a media targeting industry.
We stopped making memorable campaigns and we started measuring click-through-rates. For a proper commentary on how digital advertising and marketing has led us to take our eye off the ball, read Mark Ritson on what he calls ‘technoporn‘.
Ironically, advertising is significantly less effective now than it was before the technological revolution. For the evidence of this, read the analyses by Peter Field and Les Binet for the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising.
Advertising is no longer an attractive place for the most creative people to build a career. We no longer attract the top talent.
We no longer lead the world.
We no longer contribute to the culture.
The business imperative and the march of technology took us one step forward and eight steps back.