"Advertising is a lost art. The work sucks, and there is obviously no talent in the industry."
Renowned art director George Lois, who arguably kick-started the creative revolution in the 1960s, said this to me in a recent interview. I greatly admire Lois and his groundbreaking campaigns and magazine covers, but is he right?
Here are some unavoidable truths: The industry isn’t going to become any less complex. Budgets aren’t going to get better. The fight for talent is real. And competition is only going to increase.
When it comes to sociopolitical factors at play, Americans are more divided than ever. Most people are bracing for another recession. And, even with all of this, consumers expect brands to take a stand on issues and have a clear set of values.
This may seem like all "doom and gloom," but there’s a lot of good news too.
First, what does a "Golden Age" really mean? It generally refers to a period in history when business, art, politics, technology or economics flourished – and more importantly, feats were overcome.
Take the "Golden Age of Art" – or the Italian Renaissance. This period, which started in the 14th century, took place during a time of plague, famine and war. Yet these hardships sparked the need for new products, services, values and culture. From that era, art, sculptures, music, poetry, architecture and more were revitalized and changed forever.
Now, let’s take the last "Golden Age of Advertising" – a stretch that went from the 1960s through the late 1980s. These decades were full of tension - the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights Movement, political assassinations, protests, hippies, Watergate and much more. In addition to all of this, these decades gave birth to new technologies, music and entertainment, such as computers, the Internet, hip-hop, cell phones, rock and roll and email.
Throughout all of that, the advertising industry managed to serve up some of the most memorable, iconic, groundbreaking pieces of work. From Volkswagen’s "Think Small" and Coca-Cola’s "Hilltop" to Apple’s "Think Different 1984" and Burger King’s "Have it Your Way," and dozens in between, adland changed forever during this time.
Basically, creativity thrived in the face of hardships and challenges.
Today, naysayers are spouting: "Advertising is dead." But the truth is that it’s just adapting to the disruptive times we’re living in.
I recently sat in a creativity meeting with a global ad agency to see the work they submitted for this year’s Cannes Lions. Every piece was wonderful, but at the end of the hour, I realized that none of the work was a "traditional" ad or a 15 or 30-second spot. The common thread throughout the creative, though, was that each piece tapped into culture in a unique way – and that’s the great divider right now.
VMLY&R, for example, helped fast-food chain Wendy’s seamlessly – and relevantly – get involved with online gaming craze Fortnite by creating a redheaded female character (modeled after the brand’s icon), who had one mission: To hold up the Wendy’s values of "Always Fresh, Never Frozen" by destroying all freezers in the game’s fantasy restaurants. And she did – for hours. In fact, gamers spent 1.5 million minutes on Twitch watching her destruction.
Most importantly, Wendy’s saw a 119 percent increase in mentions across Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube from the stunt.
Creativity that’s fueled by data and culture is also turning heads. Look at how Huge delivered a data-driven solution that incorporated storytelling and creativity for P&G's luxury Japanese beauty brand SK-II.
While Japan is one of the most technologically advanced countries in the world, the beauty industry hasn’t kept up. They needed to attract young consumers to the 39-year-old brand. The answer was to weave AI, AR and data into a narrative experience that guided users on a journey to learn about their skin, and in the process, the brand itself. Enter SK-II Wonderland: a first-of-its-kind, augmented reality-driven pop-up store in Tokyo, Japan. Wonderland used AI to analyze over a million data points on the consumer’s face.
SK-II Wonderland achieved what it set out to do, 86 percent of the target audience who visited stated that SK-II was "a more aspirational brand" afterward.
And sometimes, a brand can go the more traditional route and tap into culture through a beautiful short film.
Earlier this year, cannabis retailer MedMen launched its first commercial, "The New Normal," starring actor Jesse Williams, which took viewers on a journey through the tumultuous history of weed in America. The two-minute spot, directed by Spike Jonze and created out of Mekanism, features obstacles for the marijuana industry over the decades, such as the 1936 propaganda film "Reefer Madness" and people receiving harsh punishments for possessing weed.
From FastCompany and Forbes to The Daily Show with Trevor Noah and Esquire, the ad received a deluge of national media and consumer attention in its fight to redefine marijuana use.
Purpose-driven and values-based marketing is another area in which brands are connecting with consumers on a cultural level. Countless studies have revealed that consumers today prefer to buy products and services from brands that have a strong sense of purpose and values.
According to Edelman’s 2018 Earned Brand study, nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of consumers around the world will buy or boycott a brand solely because of its position on a social or political issue, a 13 percent increase from 2017.
National Geographic’s multi-year "Planet or Plastic?" campaign, in partnership with McCann New York, proves the power of purposeful work. The initiative, designed to raise awareness about the increasingly destructive impact of disposable plastics on the planet, was shared socially 13.6 million times, led 400-plus companies to change their plastic policies and was cited in a hearing by Wyoming Senator John Barrasso, chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.
If that’s not enough, check out how Nike’s sales spiked following its controversial Colin Kaepernick ad campaign last year. The former NFL player sparked debate when he kneeled during the national anthem in protest of police killings of unarmed black Americans. Nike knew that its decision to include Kaepernick in its ad would anger some consumers, but it stood by its set of values – which paid off for the brand in more ways than one.
The Deloittes and Accentures of the world also fit into this equation. There’s a strong cohort that say consultancies are going to be the death of advertising, especially with Accenture recently buying creative powerhouse Droga5. In my eyes, the purchase is a positive sign for the industry because it shows that even consultancies are looking to invest more in creativity on behalf of clients.
The bottom line: Internal pressures facing agencies and brands today – coupled with societal demands and technological advances – is starting to lead to some really powerful, relevant work, which brings me back to Lois.
I respectfully – and wholeheartedly – disagree with Lois’ sentiments about adland today.
So, will there be another "Golden Age" of advertising? Yes, we are actually living in the beginning of it.