When first asked to write this piece regarding the developments in marketing and advertising over recent decades, I thought it would be a jolly romp through the recent history of these two honourable professions sprinkled with a few lively anecdotes and ‘must hear’ stories but the more I pondered the possible content the more a darker side to all this emerged. So here goes with some darkness and hopefully some light relief as well.
When I started my career in this profession there seemed no end to the creative possibilities and endless stream of good ideas, from gluing a car on a poster, to monkeys selling tea; it was all a great adventure but with a purpose – to sell goods and services and to do it with some style and possibly some humour – and no expense was spared.
I can recall working for a leading London advertising agency who employed a ‘stylist’ to attend all of the international fashion shows in order that they would know what colours to dress their models in the ads for next years’ campaigns – what a job! Clients and agencies actively enjoyed the process of creating ads and campaigns and would even talk about this in the pub once all of the business had been done. I think, looking back, that everyone felt they were breaking new ground knowingly or unknowingly and were happy to be a part of it.
As times got tougher marketing departments were challenged to justify the spending on their campaigns and a hint of caution crept in as whilst everyone knew instinctively that a good campaign was working for the brand – proving it was quite a different matter. So, more cautious campaigns were developed and metrics and analytics introduced to attempt to prove the efficacy of each campaign. This was, of course, quite necessary but in the process, something of the creative spirit was crushed.
Now enters into this scene a new protagonist in the shape of digital media, initially websites but then a whole flood of social media sites, blogs, tweets, podcasts, eShots and the rest and suddenly there is measurability – great cries of success from the naysayers and budget holders who at last can take their marketing pound and see what it has done to increase sales, profit and ‘engagement’. This aimed a further body blow at the creatives and more direct selling messages appear along with the inevitable analytics.
Now there is absolutely nothing wrong with analysing your campaigns to make sure that they are effective but what seems to have got lost in the midst of all this is that quantitative measures have become all important whilst qualitative seems to have taken a back seat along with the creative risk taking we have seen in past campaigns. Obviously, there are exceptions to every rule and the brilliance on using meerkats to promote a comparison website has paid dividends.
So what of the future? Is there hope for creative commercial messages – yes as both the human spirit and the entrepreneurial instincts cry out for an initiative in the communications strategy which will stand out from the crowd and give a brand that elusive competitive advantage. So, let’s look forward to an increase in creative risk taking, bold clients who will give their agencies exciting briefs and the positive use of all that digital media can offer in todays’ brave new communication world.