Monday, January 19, 2015

A Book About Poison Gas

I have a book out and it would be remiss of me - as an ad guy - not to plug my own product.

So I will.

100 Ideas That Changed Advertising is really a history book, charting the development of advertising from the earliest posters (perfectly preserved advertising messages have been found on the walls of Pompeii) to today's online media behemoths like Facebook and YouTube.

I took history A-Level at school, I enjoy history, and I believe we can learn a lot from it.

So what can we learn from the history of advertising?

The main thing I learned, in writing it, is that the history of advertising is a history of innovation - not only that, but of remarkably rapid innovation.

For example, the first cinema in the United States - Vitascope Hall, in New Orleans - opened in 1896. Filmed ads were being produced as early as 1897.

The first commercially licensed radio station in America went on air in 1920. In 1922, the first radio advertising was broadcast.

Twitter launched in 2006, and by 2010 was running advertising.

There are a couple of useful take-aways, I'd suggest, from this trend.

First, don't be afraid to innovate.

In 1921, a group of investors declined to put money into radio, notoriously predicting that “The wireless music box has no imaginable commercial value. Who would pay for a message sent to no one in particular?” Right.

When the first TV ad aired, on July 1st 1941, there were only 7,500 TV sets in New York City. The ad was for Bulova watches and showed a watch-face superimposed over a map of the U.S., while a voiceover claimed that “America runs on Bulova time.” The whole medium must have seemed incredibly shonky, compared to the sophistication of print advertising at that time. People must have wondered if it would ever take off. Well, it did.
Similarly, people questioned whether YouTube would ever make money from advertising, since few believed there would ever be a wide audience for videos of other people's cats. I know.

So what's today's frontier? Mobile? Probably. Don't be afraid to go there. 

As I worked through the chronology of our industry to write the book, I started to feel that advertising is like a gas; it seeps in everywhere. Whatever new medium is invented that captures a modicum of human attention, someone will find a way to put an ad there.

And that led to my second take-away. In contrast to the ever-evolving media and technology landscape, there is one thing that hasn't changed, and will never change - the nature of our responsibilities, as advocates for the brands who buy this space.

Another gas metaphor captures it with pungent brilliance. It was American ad-man George Lois who said of successful advertising: "I think advertising should be like poison gas. It should grip you by the throat, it should bowl you over, it should knock you on your ass.” 


marrianne said...

Looks great Simon congratulations, I am sure it is a great read!

Anonymous said...

Isn't it the fields of media and technology that have been the innovators? Advertising sounds more like an opportunistic parasite.

Scamp said...

Yeah, in a way you're right. Media and technology have been far more innovative. But let's not slag off advertising completely. Advertising has had to adapt to these changes, and has done so very quickly and effectively. That's no small achievement.

Adam Ferrier said...

Received my copy yesterday - read loads of it - its brilliant. The examples are excellent (Kasparov vs Deep Blue as an example of Media Neutrality - love it.

Scamp said...

Thanks, Adam. From a fellow author, that's great to hear. Enjoyed your book too. It's called 'The Advertising Effect', people.