14 June 2016
It was the best of times. The Golden Age, when anything was possible and giants walked the Earth.
It was the time of trannies and typesetting, two-martini lunches and Magic Marker scamps.
The era before email, before Procurement Departments, before social media turned everyone with half a creative idea into a fully-fledged guru.
It was the time when Marketing ruled the world and everything was brighter, simpler, less convoluted, better.
Except it wasn’t, not really.
It is certainly easy to look back with a fair degree of nostalgia over 25 years in this incredible, exciting, infuriating industry. To fondly reminisce about where we’ve come from, how we’ve evolved since the first graphic designer crawled from the primordial ooze, eager-eyed, with embryonic MacBook in hand (and was immediately drowned in a sheaf of hand-written briefs and dire deadlines by the first traffic manager newly-descended from some leafy arboreal boardroom).
And yes, it’s still easy to get misty-eyed about a time when, if you believe the fossil records, all it took to sell an idea was to lob a couple of storyboards through the front door and bellow, “Let’s go to lunch.”
Except it didn’t, not really.
Just like today, it took blood, sweat, tears and tantrums to shift an idea from brain to page, screen or speaker. Just like today, it took wordsmiths, darkroom denizens, idea sculptors, visual craftsmen and craftswomen (or perhaps in 21st Century speak, craftpersons, or even craftrons) painstaking hours to hone and refine and finesse concepts and executions that, today, let’s be honest, would never ever see the light of day. And more importantly, should never have seen the light of day.
You can moan all you want about today’s ‘social justice warriors’, ‘PC party’ or ‘frothing feminazis’ stifling your creativity and freedom of expression, but while the ‘old days’ have a lot to reminisce about fondly, I find it hard to keep the rose-tinted specs on for too long.
Let’s not forget that our industry demographics and our creative output both reflected and projected the distorted image of our society at the time. It was a bright, happy time, for some of us. For others, it was the age of casual but hurtful stereotyping in just about every medium available, a time when sexism and casual misogyny could be used to sell products. When we made adverts essentially tailored to the few, that told the vast majority, “Sorry, not for you”. ‘Black diamonds’ (that crass, crass marketing term) were, like Adobe Updates, still years away so, for the most part (with a very few brave exceptions) we played our part, helping to paper over the cracks of a divided society with a brightly shot veneer of sunny skies, talking about what was on top of the refrigerator rather than opening the door to expose the unsavoury apartheid leftovers inside. Of course, we had to, of course, it was what our clients wanted, and that was the nature of business. And business was good – sometimes I think that the Anointed Elders of Advertising miss the print margins and unquestioned agency commission structures more than anything.
So here’s what I think: this is the golden age of advertising. It’s harder, more complex, and more demanding than ever. There are more eyes on us than ever before. A single misstep can run the entire cycle – from Twitterstorm, mass cringing and finger-pointing, to grovelling apology and residual memes in a matter of hours (certainly before the first ASA complaint is ‘hunt-and-peck’ typed out). And I think that’s a good thing.
We have to be more real, more involved, more human in every aspect of our operation. We’ve had to ditch the loud hailers and be able to start conversations, with everybody. And I think that’s the best thing.
Being a dinosaur was great. Fossils rock! But evolution RULES.