Welcome to advertising’s next golden age

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“Advertising is a lost art. The work sucks and there is obviously no talent in the industry.”

Renowned art director George Lois, who arguably kick-started the creative revolution in the 1960s, said this to me in a recent interview. I greatly admire Lois and his groundbreaking campaigns and magazine covers, but is he right?

Here are some unavoidable truths: the industry isn’t going to become any less complex. Budgets aren’t going to get better. The fight for talent is real. And competition is only going to increase.

When it comes to the socio-political factors at play, Americans are more divided than ever. Most people are bracing for another recession. And even with all of this, consumers expect brands to take a stand on issues and have a clear set of values.

This may seem all doom and gloom, but there’s a lot of good news too. First, what does a ‘golden age’ really mean? It generally refers to a period in history when business, art, politics, technology or economics flourished — and more importantly, feats were overcome. Take the golden age of art, or the Italian Renaissance. This period, which started in the 14th century, took place during a time of plague, famine and war. Yet these hardships sparked the need for new products, services, values and culture. From that era, art, sculptures, music, poetry, architecture and more were revitalised and changed forever.

Now, let’s take the last golden age of advertising — a stretch that went from the 1960s through the late 1980s. These decades were full of tension: the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights Movement, political assassinations, protests, hippies, Watergate and much more. In addition to all of this, these decades gave birth to new technologies, music and entertainment, such as computers, the internet, hip-hop, cell phones, rock ‘n’ roll and email. 

Throughout all of that, the advertising industry managed to serve up some of the most memorable, iconic, groundbreaking pieces of work. From Volkswagen’s ‘Think Small’ and Coca-Cola’s ‘Hilltop’ to Apple’s ‘Think Different’ and ‘1984’, and Burger King’s ‘Have It Your Way’ and dozens in between, adland changed forever during this time. Basically, creativity thrived in the face of hardships and challenges.

Today, naysayers are spouting, “Advertising is dead”. But the truth is that it’s just adapting to the disruptive times we’re living in.

• Read the full article in the Lions Daily News, published here online, and in print throughout the city of Cannes, during the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, from June 16 to 21

Harriet Palmer