This is perhaps the most legendary passage from Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel The Great Gatsby. And as we paddle into 2020, it seems particularly poignant. In art, advertising and attitudes we have evolved. A new era is here, but yet like Gatsby, there’s something symbolic about our moment in time.
The very first commercial hit the radio in 1922, which may seem surprising as it was at a time when – like many other things – direct advertising was prohibited. Back then adverts weren’t renowned for their clear, surprising copy, or imaginative artwork; they were talk-show-like slots. Advertising was born, and in each year that followed it evolved.
Following the Great Depression, Ad legend Rosser Reeves introduced the USP – Unique Selling Point – in 1930. The world’s first television commercial aired in 1941. And this rapid development snowballed into what we call the Golden Age of Advertising in the 50s and 60s – a time of big personalities and even bigger ideas.
This continual development meant those adverts which had been effective in 1922, quickly became redundant. Audiences grow wise to advertising tricks almost as soon as they emerge. So what may have been seen as a concise, and excellently communicated advert 70, 60, 50 or even ten years ago, would look like a cheesy ad on a fuzzy TV today.
Put into context, it’s only fitting that advertising has evolved in leaps and bounds – it was born in a century with milestones at every turn. Its development has run parallel to some of the most trying moments in modern times, including the Wall Street Crash and the Second World War. It’s seen some of the most necessary social change, including the civil rights movement and feminism. It’s seen man land on the moon, and our very own planet declared in a state of climate emergency.
But amongst the inventions which have cropped up along the way… television, digital cameras, smart phones, sliced bread… there’s one media in particular that’s completely revolutionised the way in which we advertise – the internet.
The new age
A study from the marketing firm Yankelovich Inc, found that the average person sees about 5,000 adverts a day. Forbes reported that that number can be as high as 10,000 for your social-media obsessed Generation Z or Millennial consumer. There are paid influencer partnerships, sponsored selfie filters, web cookies, user-behaviour profiling, email marketing… and that’s all in addition to traditional print, radio and television ads.
The 1920s was so significant because mass production and the lowering of prices on consumer goods meant that more items were available to more people than ever before. The 2020s see us on a similar precipice, except it’s no longer washing machines and Ford Model T’s we’re shopping for, but almost anything we can dream of – and it’s all just a click away. The question becomes, how do you advertise in such a saturated market? How do you stand out? After all, it could be pretty easy to sink in a commercial landscape so well-watered it’s at risk of flood.
More than a feeling
When we’ve reached the tipping point in the past, the solution has always been a side step. When consumers were fed up with hard-sell, features-driven advertising, the industry turned to selling the benefits instead. This change is hallmarked by turning-point ads like the 1994 Porsche campaign; ‘Honestly now, did you spend your youth dreaming about someday owning a Nissan or a Mitsubishi?’. It came at time when suddenly there were so many manufacturers crafting their own versions of the same engine, body and car, that the main thing that kept Porsche at the top of the food chain was its prestige.
Following in the legacy of the radical Volkswagen ‘Lemon’ and ‘Think Small’ adverts of the 1960s, Porsche kept words to a minimum, only now it wasn’t concerned with including a write up of its turbo body, suspension or stitching at the foot of the page.
It was all about not what the specs are, but how they make the consumer feel, going on to say: ‘There is still only one car that looks, feels and performs like a Porsche 911: a Porsche 911’. This was a brand that was no longer just a luxury car manufacturer; it had become emblematic of a lifestyle. A milestone people would use as a mark of their own success, and therefore a goal instilled in consumers as young as childhood.
For us and so many other marketers, the next right turn is about connection. Making your campaigns a two-way conversation, something that doesn’t talk at your customers, but to them. In the era of engagement, we’re working to cut through oceans of jargon to create a seamless and real connection between you and your customers.
In part, it’s a concept that harks back to the days of prohibition, when you couldn’t tell people what to buy, but you could make them act upon hearing it. Simple, surprising and straight as a die, 2020 is set to bring not only facts and feeling, but some much-needed human connection to the digital age.