Advertising's past, present and future; a viewpoint

DDB's original Volkswagen ad for the US. Think Small grabbed everyone's attention and solicited emotional response.

Advertising is many things, a nuisance to some, a job for others and a necessity for many. But this article isn’t about advertising being good or bad, it’s about the milestones in advertising, the milestones that have brought efficient ads.

Today the most efficient ads are search ads. They’re small, they don’t contain large and fancy images, they are cheap and one can track their efficiency down to the last cent. But it wasn’t always that way, let’s go back through the major achievements in advertising that have brought us ads as good as these.

In the beginning there was print...

Print advertising began a whole new possibility to promote goods and services.

Print advertising began a whole new possibility to promote goods and services.

Old Converse advertisement with the introduction of color in print.

Old Converse advertisement with the introduction of color in print.

The creative revolution changed the game by adding emotions to advertising. With TV and "moving pictures" plus sound advertising reached many more senses and got us loving it. 

The creative revolution changed the game by adding emotions to advertising. With TV and "moving pictures" plus sound advertising reached many more senses and got us loving it. 

Google introduced a new change in advertising, intent which became much less intrusive but much more relevant and right at the moment when we're looking for it.

Google introduced a new change in advertising, intent which became much less intrusive but much more relevant and right at the moment when we're looking for it.

In the end of the 1800s, during the industrial revolution, products became more and more commoditized and manufacturers now had to advertise to thousands in order to sell the inventory they had produced. That is when larger scale advertising as we know it today began. At the time ads were often in black and white, line-art and text. At the time printing technology wasn’t evolved enough to print real pictures and in most cases color printing wasn’t affordable for newspapers.

Today when we look back at these ads we mainly think of snake-oil salesmen or underwear. But consider that at the time the “noise” level was pretty low so any promise that would offer a better life was welcome.

And they worked, meaning they generated more sales, if they didn’t the whole field of advertising would never have continued to exist.

Then color...

Fast forward to the 1920s, color printing of magazines had progressed. Advertising had already evolved a lot. Large illustrations, art-deco style, were capturing readers attention all over the world. Though varying in quality and emotional impact it was already a long way from the black and white, line-art ads we had before.

While the ads may be informative and contain lots of text, inspiring text at that, today we all know that we can write anything we want in text and it’ll always be “inspiring”. So after a bit of deception sales probably started to slow down and something else had to be invented.

Then emotional impact 

AND THE CREATIVE REVOLUTION CHANGED THE GAME...

 

In my opinion nothing much changes until the 1960s, in fact even the 1920s aren’t that much of an improvement, some nicer illustrations, better drawings, more colors but that’s about it.

Now comes the first big change in advertising, the 1960s, now comes emotional impact. I would say that until then we’ve had “reason” advertising. Trying to convince people with reason that they should buy something. While this may work, it’s not very efficient. Emotion is what drives action, not always the right action but action all the same.

For a rational reason why that happened in the 1960s is that that’s when color printing of photography became widely used. But that’s a pretty boring explanation, for a more romantic (and emotionally thrilling) reason is that that’s when advertising geniuses such as David Ogilvy, Bill Bernbach, Leo Burnett and the others from the Creative Revolution changed the advertising world.

Ads like the Volkswagen series were and are still part of the greats. In fact the concept is still being copied today by existing agencies more than 50 years later. They were amazing because they had emotion. They got you laughing, smiling, curious and open to a new viewpoint. Everything one wants from an ad.

George Lois, related advertising to poison gas, he says“Advertising is poison gas” he later goes on to say“The important thing’s got to be that you implant an idea out there and everybody in a very human way understands it, grasps it, and is excited by it, If that end result doesn’t happen, I don’t care how beautiful I think something is, or how exciting the language is, if people don’t react, I’ve struck out.”

While this is a very sensational quote and it’s not quite right in that I think ads must have a positive element, he does get the point across about emotional impact.

The creative revolution, was in essence the emotional impact revolution, and that was probably the biggest breakthrough in advertising since it’s invention. Did they do it knowingly or by chance I don’t know. But the fact is that suddenly they were pushing people to buy using emotion and not reason.

However since then, nothing much happened. In fact aside from some better visuals, more photoshopping and brighter colors, we’re still running around doing the same kind of ads.

But then came intent...

 

In 2000 Google launched AdWords and that changes the advertising landscape dramatically. How does a small text-based ad containing some 250 characters change everything? In one word, intent.

Look at all the advertising we’ve had before, it was served t us whether we wanted it or not, whether we were interested in the product or not, whether we had decided to look for something similar or not. In other words, it was spam. One ad in 100,000 interested us and sometimes we decided to check it out, or we would laugh or we would recognise the brand when we’re in the supermarket we may have picked it up.

In 2000 things changed, the internet was there and we could buy stuff online. Did Google change the advertising space or was it just a natural evolution? I would say it was a natural evolution.

Suddenly advertising could be served to you when you were looking for that product/subject this changes everything. In fact when you are looking to buy a product, the ads deliver a better answer than the organic results. Well, if someone is willing to spend money to take you to their site, they had better have a good answer.

More precise ad delivery, at the exact moment when you were looking for the product. It couldn’t get much better. In fact I seriously doubt that Google even knew how much this was going to revolutionise advertising.

In comparison, look at all other advertising on the internet – it’s horrible. Banners deliver no emotional impact, buying a background on a site destroys the site’s design, splash advertising slows down your experience, YouTube video ads are a nuisance, and Facebook ads are essentially spam with small images and little text delivered when you just want to waste spend some time online.

So what's next?

Well, what’s next? I’m not sure I can tell you what is next. Sure big data is definitely a step in the right direction, where advertising companies will know so much about us that they’ll be able to discern what we like and what we don’t like. So we will get more targeted ads based on our previous purchases, “likes”, tweets etc. they’ll need to be delivered with emotional impact and most importantly they’ll need to be delivered to us at the right time, when we are intending to make a purchase.

Google Now could take advertising to the next level, it knows we have searched for Hermes Perfume, it knows we are walking towards a Sephora and could deliver an ad on the lock screen, but I think if they did that we would soon be switching to iPhone. Unless of course our phone or subscription is entirely subsidised by ads.

But what could be happening very soon would be electronic billboards that knows you are near it, based on your phone, and based on your search history it delivers an ad for you. It could average out the interests of the majority of the people that are near it and deliver an ad that fits the majority of the people around it.

Or we could imagine Google Glass delivering advertising to you right then and there, but I think Google Glass is having enough problems taking off, so that wont be happening too soon.

The essence of the next revolution in advertising is who is going to deliver emotional impact at the moment of intent. Whoever solves that will rule the next advertising channel, today Google seems best set for it.

But that is another article for another time, this was just a little opinion on the milestones in the history of advertising.

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Martin Soler