The 90s: The Decade That Advertising Got Lost

Some screws.

I've noticed a bit of nostalgia for the good old days amongst ad people recently. And ironically it's the good old days of the 1990's that they seem to be pining for.

It's clear to anyone who pays more than a passing interest to the business that there has been a palpable decline in standards over the last few years. Not only standards of creative output, but of the process in which it's created, and the quality of people you come across in the business. One of the most sad things is to see agencies that bear the names of talented advertising people now turned into bland factories producing bullshit and status reports.
The business is afflicted with fear and self-loathing.

It's easy to blame the current recession and general client belt-tightening over the last few years for the decline in advertising standards.

But I think there's something bigger behind it, something that would be happening even if we weren't in recession.

Advertising is all screwed up.

In the 50s and 60s, advertising exploded as smart people got together to kick start the business and create amazing things for clients. Clients had success, agencies had success. People got rich, and had a great time getting there. Advertising came of age as a business.

In the seventies this continued as advertising grew to become almost like the rock and roll of the business world, a place for people who wouldn't be able to get a real job, and real creative thinkers to sit at the same table as business leaders, and help them become more successful.

The 80's was the decade of consumption and decadence, of business and ambition. This suited advertising down to the ground. In the 80s, even through it's almost comical excesses, advertising was still about being a partner to business, creating ideas and advertising that built business, sold products and made money for its clients. It's maverick ways were tolerated because what it produced was invaluable. Maybe that was only way to get the great work.

But something changed in the 1990s, at least in Britain.
Advertising lost its way.
What happened was that it continued to operate with the same level of excess, in terms of production and lifestyle, but stopped producing the goods. The world became obsessed with 'the brand' and advertising people became more obsessed than anyone. It was the start of a sense of distaste among British ad people at the idea of selling, a feeling that advertising was dirty and somehow beneath them. Advertising stopped being about finding ways to build businesses and sell products. It turned into branding and entertainment.

In a struggling to find a way to feel better about what they did, the advertising people of the day threw out the product, threw out the sell, the reason to buy, the persuasion, and just became entertainers. They made 'branding films'. The 90s must be the decade that has produced the most self-indulgent and meaningless advertising of the 20th century. Agencies were convincing clients to part with more and more money to produce bigger and more indulgent advertising with less and less of a link to their product.

Creatives became obsessed with making work that relegated the product to a bit part, a tack-on. An irritating niggle that spoiled their 'film'. I came into the business late in the 90s, and although I got to work with some very smart, talented people, I can remember noting with wide-eyes the disdain that some creatives had for clients, the product, for anything that 'looked like an ad' or that was too obviously selling something.

And the ad business began to suffer from a generation of people who were 'happy to be there', they quite fancied advertising because it looked easy and fun. They just aped what they saw as being the good ads of the time - one person would do an ad with no product in it - so they all tried to do all of their ads with no products in it. It was the era of amazingly bonkers arguments in board rooms about pack shots and end title lengths. The 90s also marked the rise of planning as an integral part of the advertising process. It separated creatives from the task in hand, and gave agencies a dangerous new stream of income - the peddling of bullshittery, that started to overshadow the actual creation of the advertising.

In the 90s, advertising kept its excesses, but stopped producing the thing that justified them - amazing ideas that sold. Clients always suspected that advertising people spent half of their day staring out of the window or into the midriff of a woman of questionable repute, but the work they produced always justified it. Not in the 90s. Advertising began a perilous slide towards nonsense that it can't seem to recover from.

Today, the business is suffering a two-sided backlash:

One one side, clients have quite understandably lost their trust in the advertising industry. They resent the wasted money, the constant fights to get their product in the work, the seeming indifference of most creative people to the job that are ultimately tasked with, and the money they spend in getting the brief presented back to them on a powerpoint chart by a chap in stupid trousers with a 2.2 in psychology. So naturally clients have become more circumspect with their budgets, and tend to view creative ideas with the reserve of someone who suspects that they're about to be mugged.

On the other side, we have the hangover of the nineties in the industry; creatives who think that it's not their job to worry about whether the ads work or not, who look up to the self-indulgent twaddle that was produced back when 'they were lads' as if it were somehow creative work on a higher plane. Creative directors who made their name in that era who now sit on awards panels or the corner office encouraging this bizarre behavior, unaware that they are the problem. An industry that has disappeared up the quivering rectum of branding, and forgotten how to do its job properly. Agencies that have become economically dependent on the money they earn from selling the 'planning' part of the process to their clients (a bit that used to happen instinctively and naturally between smart account men, clients, and creatives), agencies that now seem to be more about the business of bullshit, presentations and ass covering.

Over the past few years since we started Sell! Sell! we've met client after client who've come to us after being burned by the bullshit of ad agencies, astonished at the indifference shown by most ad creatives at those agencies towards their business aims. They have genuine distrust for the business and feelings of having been hoodwinked. And I can't say that I blame them.

It's a sorry state of affairs. But if anyone wants to pine for better days, why not pine for the days of the 60s, 70s & 80s, when advertising was creative, maverick, sometimes a little bit scary, but always relevant?
Not the 90s: the decade that advertising got lost.


German designer, Nicholas Groll's 'NCLZ' site showcases some really nice designs that you can interact with. Thumbs up Nicholas! It's just a shame German was never a strong point at school. 

Anyway, you can check out his site here (keep clicking through code and the like to get to the tip top bits). 

Mark Denton's Nice Big Package

Yep, a headline straight from the script of a carry-on film seems like the correct way to introduce this package of absolute loveliness that arrived at Sell! Towers from Mark Denton today.
We agreed to do a swap of print and design stuff that we've done (our pack is winging it's way over to Mr Denton as we speak) and there is an absolute load of great stuff here, fantastic design, print, typography, it's a great body of work.
And the thing I enjoy most about it - it all has wit, charm and character - something that's sadly lacking from the majority of contemporary stiff, dry, po-faced design.
Thanks a bunch, Mark!

Tea and biscuits

We're not one to refuse a good biscuit, especially when it's a bit miserable out and we can unashamedly dunk it in our tea. So this week's top five is all about biscuits. The favourites, the classic dunkers, the silly ones (that's you pink wafer) and the ones that inevitably end up all crumby at the bottom of the barrel.

It's been tough whittling it down to just five, but here's our top five best of the best -

1. The jaffa cake (yep, we count this champion as a biscuit)

2. The figroll

3. The ginger nut

4. The Almighty chocolate hobnob

5. The jammy dodgerLet us know if we've outrageously underestimated any.
Right. Time to put the kettle on.

Let Me Sell That Motherfucker

The new trailer for Art & Copy, a film by Doug Pray.
Sell! Sell! #1 hero George Lois never lets us down.
That's advertising baby.

Book of Etiquette

There are rare gems to be found over at the YCN library. We recently came across this book of 1930's etiquette, according to Vogue. Its detailed do's and don'ts for social appropriateness are totally outrageous and refreshingly unPC. It's a hilarious read, citing such corkers as, 'children should be seen and not heard', with some neat illustrations too.

We now know how to correctly tip our hat (at any given situation) and correctly pour our tea. Essentials. 

Click here to find out more about the YCN library and discover some unusual books and recommended reading lists. Hegarty's is particularly good.

BBQ Your Bratwurst

We spotted this rather tasty looking yet totally pointless iphone application over on colectiva's blog. 

The app, created for Swiss butchery, Bell, allows you to flame grill your own bratwurst in real time. And the best part, the more you blow into your iphone mic the more you increase the heat/ flames on the barbie! Brings a whole new meaning to blowing hot air.

Watch out for silly looking chaps blowing into their iphones in the street, or become one yourself by downloading it for free here

Nuffield Health Smart Guides

Over the past year we've been doing some work with the healthy people at Nuffield Health to help them promote their new chain of Fitness & Wellbeing Centres (health clubs to you and I).
We came up with the umbrella idea of Smart Health as a start-point to bring together all of the different parts of their health business, and to help explain their innovative services and other fancy-pants stuff that normally gets turned into jargony jargon .

Anyhow, we thought we'd share with you a small part of that - the Nuffield Health Smart Guides. We created them to help Nuffield Health members with simple, helpful advice on different health & wellbeing-related subjects, in way that talks to them like normal folk in a friendly way. The guides themselves are small, pocket-sized booklets...

Here are a few pages...

You can download the guides yourself here. And turn yourself into a picture of health and goodliness.

The 14th Webby Awards Are Coming...

Tom Waits "Eggs and Sausage" By Jackie Lay

Really nice type-led film by Jackie Lay set to Tom Waits' Eggs And Sausage.
Something else that's made me really hungry. Smashing stuff.

eBoy in action

If you're a fan of eBoy's pixel-tastic work you should check out this little video. The film documents the process for 4 illustration pieces based on Irish cities. All created during a recent campaign for Coca-Cola by McCann Erickson in Ireland.

It's always good to get a glimpse into the craft of other illustrators and creatives. Cheers to The Small Print & for the heads up.

From Friday, More Sell! Sell! Work In Progress...

We had another great shoot on Friday with our friends at Gas & Electric, making the latest in the Knock-Off Nigel campaign. A good day with some fantastic performances from a really good cast. Thanks everyone. More coming soon.

Ross Kemp's face, folded.

Kempfolds. The art of folding pictures of Ross Kemp. Brilliant.

Cheese And Burger Society

What a fantastic way to sell cheese. Make a site that celebrates the the glory that is the cheeseburger. This is a smart, simple and brilliantly executed idea, with great attention to detail. The writing for the (perfectly cast) cheeseburger and cheese voiceovers is especially good. Once again, those Americans show how to make the product the king, in an entertaining way.
I am really, really hungry now.
See the site here.


Fortune Magazine Covers

We love these vintage Fortune magazine covers.
More covers and info over on the Delicious blog.

More Advertising Awards Rants

As regular readers will already know, Sell! Sell! thinks current advertising creative awards schemes are a bunch of old-man's-cock. It does seem that recently there is a growing tide of public dissatisfaction with the schemes and the negative effect they're having on the business. Have a read of this excellent awards-bashing post over on The Denver Egotist blog.

Sell! Sell! rants on creative awards...

My Life. My Card.

As we eagerly await Wes Anderson's new release, Fantastic Mr. Fox (yeah we've got some wait), we happened across those old self-indulgent ads for American Express directed by the Anderson himself. They follow the same intricate path as some of his films and one stars himself, well, as himself.

Click here to see them again.

The Best Advertising Book Of The Last Ten Years

Now then. There are loads of books about advertising. You only need to look in the marketing or advertising section of a bookshop and you'll be faced with a wall of opinion and advice.

There are a few excellent classics that I think are very useful - especially for creative types, but I do wish more advertising and marketing people would read them too. You can see them here.

However, most of the modern stuff is either very functional and process obsessed, or the kind of sociology-lite claptrap peddled by planners when they get bored of fucking up the advertising and want to move on to speaking tours.

But there is a modern book on advertising that is definitely worth a read. I implore all of our kind readers to get hold of a copy. And the bonus is it won't cost you anything. In fact you can download it here:

Bob is the chap behind the Ad Contrarian blog, and a man who we share many opinions about advertising with. I don't agree with absolutely everything in the book, but most I most definitely do. One of the things we at Sell! Sell! wholeheartedly believe in is the power of interesting, product-focused advertising to build companies and brands, rather the ridiculous, woolly and self-indulgent 'brand' type advertising that pervades today. It's one of the simple, but strongly held principles that we built our little company on.

There are many great examples out there of famous and successful brands that have built success on product and benefit led advertising -Apple, VW and Innocent just off the top of my head (curiously these are some of the brands cited by people trying to extoll the benefits of 'brand' advertising).

One of the key things about Bob's book is that in an age when advertising has become over-complicated and over-intellectualised, it's normally the over-complicators and the over-intellectualisers that shout the loudest. And write the books. In fact, if you wanted to build a life-size house of bullshit out of 'branding' books, you wouldn't be short of raw material.

To me this is the most important advertising book of the last ten years because it's an almost unique glimpse of simplicity and common sense in modern advertising. Advertising is desperate for more people to stand up against the tide of bullshit that's ruining a business once known for clarity and smart thinking. In this humble ad-man's opinion, everyone involved with the process of commissioning, creating or producing advertising should read this book.

And if you're a young creative (I know a few of you read this), I know the temptation is to just look at creative stuff, and leave the strategy to someone else, but it's really worth your while spending some time with this.

Thanks Bob.

Bacardi & Cola. They Get The Job Done.

A classic on a Thursday. Bacardi & Cola. Once again the Yanks show how you can put the product at the centre of the communication and still make it entertaining stuff. Here in Britadland it seems most people either can't or won't do this. But again, I think the 'production line' approach of ad agencies is partly at fault. Anyway, enough of that, enjoy...

One man and his puppet

This week we've picked our top five puppet-based comedy double acts. 

In the running and in no particular order we've got...

1. Rod Hull & Emu

2. Matthew (or Harry) Corbett & Sooty 

3. The Ultimate - Phillip Scoffield & Gordon the Gopher

4. Keith Harris & Orville

5. Bodger & Badger

If we've missed any gruesome two-somes off our list do let us know.

Previous Top 5 Tuesdays include:

Ian Stevenson

We're big fans of Stevenson's work and his ilikedrawing site. So we were most pleased when we spotted this little treat over on the It's Nice That blog

This super animation by Stevenson is the music video for Jamie Scott & The Town's 'Stare Into The Sun' number. The Jackson inspired dancing at the end makes this a winner. Happy Monday.

In the beginning...

Mark Weaver's done it again. When we thought the images couldn't get any better, he goes and adds even more delightful ones to his Make Something Cool Every Day flickr set. His new stuff seems to have a smashing past, present futurama feel to it. 

You can watch this great gif on his flickr stream here too.