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Is advertising's golden age over?

Perhaps you read about the lavish party that Saatchi & Saatchi recently threw for its 40th birthday. Surely you saw the pictures: a frail Margaret Thatcher clutching at John Major. Andrew Lloyd Webber, Bob Geldof, David Hare.

As the champagne flowed and the topless women shimmied, the last thirty years melted away. It was a good party. The media went mad for it. And it plays to our idea of what advertising should be: sexy, glamorous, a little bit decadent. With all that creativity, of course things get a little wild sometimes.

Except, of course, that the Saatchi party was like one of those club nights when everyone dresses up in billowing white shirts and dances to Duran Duran: a step back in time, a brief flirtation with a bygone era before crashing back to reality with a hangover.

Somewhere along the way, advertising stopped being glamorous, stopped being sexy, stopped, even, being very much fun.

And with it advertising agencies stopped being the purveyors of alchemical brand transformations and became suppliers of a commodity characterized as much by the price charged as the job done.

They lost their stature as business partners and – until the arrival of Mad Men on our TV screens – the industry fell out of the media spotlight.

Does this sound familiar? Has the production industry undergone a similar redaction, with cost over-taking quality as the key definer of client relationships? At its worst, my sources tell me, too right it has. There’s no sign things will improve any time soon. Or ever.

Last week I interviewed one of the country’s biggest advertisers. Off the record – ‘we don’t want to induce panic before we’re ready to handle it’ – they told me that what and how they pay for advertising will soon undergo dramatic overhaul. I didn’t come away confident they would be spending more money.

So should our creative services industries accept that their golden age is over? I hope not. Because if we do then we stop championing creativity, creativity that cannot be costed at lowest-bidder price. And we accept that our jobs will be less fulfilling and rewarding. And, yes, less glamorous and less fun.

Posted 05 October 2010 by Claire Beale
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