I hope there will be a fair amount of self-satisfied Champagne-swilling when the IPA celebrates its 100th anniversary next week. As the ad industry stumbles over so many fundamental challenges, it’s a good moment to remind ourselves of how we got here and that here is a damn good place from which to navigate forward.
But as it hangs up the bunting on Brick Lane for its four-day Festival of British Advertising, I know that the IPA is keen to moderate nostalgia wallowing. It wants to send a clear and open message to young talent and to the public at large about the vibrancy of the industry. And it wants to look forward, perhaps more than it wants to look back.
That’s a fine ambition; it would be shameful to squander the opportunity to showcase advertising’s bright future and to welcome in fresh (diverse) blood. But – unfashionable as it is to celebrate anything too analogue, too white, too male – it would also be shameful to allow the moment to pass without trumpeting our history. In another 100 years, no-one in our industry will remember Collett Dickenson Pearce or David Abbott or the Smash Martians; let’s toast them while we can.
So let’s celebrate the fact that the ads we grew up loving were printed on pieces of paper or broadcast on analogue TVs – platforms that will be thoroughly alien well before the turn of the next century. And let’s thank God that none of us will have the challenge of curating much-loved ads that shape popular culture over the next 100 years (that could be a very small exhibition).
Let’s pay tribute to the mostly non-diverse talent that brought the industry this far (John Webster, Paul Arden, Simon Broadbent, Stephen King, Colin Millward, Patricia Mann and on and on). Yes, too many are men. Yes, most are white. But their talent remains unquestioned.
Let’s give thanks, too, to the entrepreneurs who really laid the foundations for our world-beating industry. They might all have sold out to the holding companies but, along the way, they gave our industry its personality and its confidence; without their risk-taking, chutzpah and flair, London might only ever have been a collection of service offices for cookie-cutter networked agencies.
But when we’ve taken a pause to pay our respects to the people who have defined advertising’s past, let’s quickly get back to acknowledging that there won’t be an advertising future unless our talent base becomes properly diverse: more women and more social and ethnic diversity. It’s not where we came from but it’s where we need to be and, if we don’t get there quickly, the IPA might not have any more landmark anniversaries to celebrate.