Monday, 11 April 2022


Recently the Times produced a supplement “The Future of Advertising”. I barely understood a word. Here’s that last sentence of mine translated into Scottish Gaelic: Leugh mi e agus cha mhòr gun do thuig mi facal

Yes. It was about as incomprehensible as that.

It talked about data partnerships and connectivity. There wasn’t a word about creativity, empathy, shifting perceptions, image or feelings.

It was about mathematics in what had once been a world of poetry. No mention of storytelling or dazzling insights.

Today, however, I heard an eminent voice of correction. Sir John Hegarty, founder of the advertising agency BBH, said to advertisers:

“Stop stalking. Start inspiring."

Thank you John. Great marketing was about capturing attention, changing minds, and altering behaviour - not pestering and harassing people. You can try getting noticed with a digital chisel and algorithm or with a paintbrush and a pocketful of creative inspiration. You can try to reach the parts that data management cannot reach, or you can bore consumers into submission using a cudgel.

Alternatively you can seduce them.

Here’s what the legendary Bill Bernbach, co-founder of Doyle Dane Bernbach, said:

“However much we would like advertising to be a science -- because life would be simpler that way -- the fact is that it is not. It is a subtle, ever-changing art, defying formularization, flowering on freshness and withering on imitation; where what was effective one day, for that very reason, will not be effective the next, because it has lost the maximum impact of originality.”

However, this isn’t going be a nostalgic piece about the golden age of advertising.

It's more about people wanting to get back to their comfort zone when that cushion of comfort has long been punctured.

We may pretend or hope for it but “normal” has gone as recession approaches, as companies behave with increasing disregard for employees, as war looms on the horizon, as we squabble on social media over gender issues, and energy sources, as we work from home and we wait for the next government U-turn or cock-up. Normal has been dying for some time.

Normal died in Wuhan, China, in November 2019. Normal died in the first lockdown . Normal died with first missile strike in the Ukraine. Normal died with Boris. Normal died when the pandemic became just a mild cold. A victim I spoke to recently, whose energy tank has been emptied by Covid, doesn’t feel normal. Normal died when Priti Patel said we’d be checking immigrant credentials when we moved them to an immigration centre we’d be setting up in, of all places, Rwanda. It was then that normal became nausea.

We can’t change the world. The world is changing us. Nothing is as it was. Rather than lamenting the death of creative advertising, of freedom of movement and of good manners it’s time to be resolute in being as kind, thoughtful and sensible as possible. Be cheerful because all is not doom but, as the song goes, you can’t always get what you want. Like normal.

A poem by Louis MacNeice called “Bagpipe Music” came into my mind. Written in 1938, widespread horror at the darkening of the political sky then must have affected his thinking. Here are the last two lines about the irremediable decline in the barometer of life:

“The glass is falling hour by hour, the glass will fall forever,
But if you break the bloody glass you won’t hold up the weather”.

Read the poem. It might make you think. But it might also make you laugh too.

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