News & Views

Time to get over advertising’s ‘Golden Age’

by Arif Haq

Is the British ad industry producing worse work than forty years ago? The consensus seems to be that although the best of today’s work is as good as it’s ever been, there’s less of it overall. Sir John Hegarty pointed to a corresponding lack of depth at Campaign’s Big Awards last year when he observed there was a widening gap between the gold winners and the runners-up.

You will no doubt have heard people offer up a specific reason for the downturn. Chats in Soho pubs or ad industry blog comments will pine for a bygone era, a simpler time when children played safely in the streets. You could buy a home without having to mortgage everything down to the fillings in your teeth. And 30-second ads featuring robot Martians who loved mashed potato singlehandedly dictated the fortunes of brands.

This mindset of the ‘golden age’ of British advertising – when clients weren’t allowed on the creative floor (let alone ask for a more than one creative response to choose from) is misguided. It’s a rose-tinted vision that ignores the fact that we’re currently in the grip of the greatest period of technological disruption since television was invented. We should we cut ourselves some slack.

Witness the deluge of coverage from CES last week to get an idea of the eye watering velocity of todays’ tech cycle. Companies and consumers test, launch, iterate and ditch technology at speeds which brands and their agencies would be foolish to try and match. And with new technology comes tectonic shifts in consumer behaviour, which are hard enough to keep up with, let alone build the longterm agency skillsets to exploit. It took 40 years for the industry to learn how to do TV advertising, a period of adjustment to a new paradigm is to be expected.

In fact, change brings new outlets for creative engagement that weren’t possible before. Show me any brilliantly inventive execution from the ‘golden age’ of the 1970s and 80s (and lord knows there are lots to choose from) and I’ll match it with the best of today’s work that delivers engagement flawlessly across TV, outdoor, mobile, social and digital to today’s attention deficient audience.

This task of knitting together a creative strategy across today’s disparate consumer touchpoints is fiendishly hard, arguably harder than coming up with the creative idea itself. Not enough credit is given to those alchemists that manage it.

The complexity of the modern communications task means that it takes more planning smarts and creative skill to produce a successful campaign today than it did before the invention of the internet, social media and mobile phones. This year I hope we recognise that more often and applaud the best of the industry’s work more loudly.


Arif Haq joined Contagious' consultancy team in April 2013. Prior to this he spent nine years working on the PepsiCo UK and Europe brand teams. He has previously written about the advertising industry in an article calling for the great British ad agency to find its balls in order to re-balance the relationship with clients. Read it here.