The history of advertising and marketing communications – about the last 100 years or so – has constantly demanded agencies to evolve. And the evolutionary pace is moving faster than ever, thanks to the advent of the Internet. New media, new technology, new formats – all of these play critical roles. But looking backward – and then forward again – this history can be described in three primary phases, each beginning with the letter C. And if you care to read through, there’s a bonus!
The first C: Copywriting
In the early days of advertising, say, from its provenances through the late 1950’s, businesses engaged the services of advertising agencies mostly for their superior writing skills. Copywriters weaved dazzling tales of adventure and promise around products and services. The primary media were radio (you had to “paint” the scene with words) and print, mostly expressed in newspapers and the burgeoning magazine business. Consider the scheister-ism of PT Barnum’s “Greatest Show on Earth,” long-copy (and long-promise) miracle cure-all ads and the culmination in the late 1950’s to “E-Day” for the Edsel. Copy carried us through two world wars.
The Second C: Commercials
By the 1960’s, art started to capture our imagination. Helmut Krone’s 2:1 layout ratio reduced copy to a shrinking afterthought: Think Small. Flowery language and superspun tales gave way to big, beautiful product shots, and – gasp! – moving images on the new-fangled television thingy. For the next 50 years or so, American advertising would become a bubbling volcanic eruption of 30- and 60-second commercinematic lava. Rain-slicked roads for car commercials, the beckoning bubbling overflow of the beer money shot, all those great talking heads and one very large, very iconic Mean Joe Green having a Coke and a Smile. What could possibly top that?
For the better part of five decades, commercials flourished, and made advertising a sexy career choice. And even got big-time movie directors stoked about a supershort form. But in the late 1990’s there was trouble afoot. A new and powerful medium had sprung up, and there were – gulp – NO RULES. Heck, for a long time, with no IAB, there were no STANDARDS! But there sure were lots of eyeballs. The Internet did change everything, especially advertising. And you could almost see the second “C” getting desperate…trying to articulate the new medium with, of all things, ANIMALS: sock puppets, energized bunnies, and when will cavemen and chimpanzees ever get old? It was clearly time for a new generation.
The Third C: Content
Like its predecessors, content will change everything about how advertising agencies go about their business, about the kinds of people they will hire and about the kind of work that will be produced. In some ways, content is already surpassing commercials – expensive to create, produce and air – as the chief and ultra-scalable deliverable. Today, in the social media morning of marketing history, content development is as valuable to our clients as the storyboard once was and the concept outline before it. Programs, movements, essay-writing contests, blogs, handheld video diaries, flash mobs, tweets and check-ins: all content, and all fueled (okay mostly fueled) by our beloved industry. Next time you’re having lunch with your client, start talking about content. You might see a real relationship start to bloom.
The fourth C: I told you there was more.
Although Content has become the unobtanium of the marketing world, there is a good chance that its reign will not last nearly as long as its forebears. In the next 10 years (yep, you heard it here first,) if agencies cannot deliver COMMUNITY to their clients, they will be as valuable as shiny, mint-condition Edsels. And we all know where they ended up.