By NICK JOHNSON, campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 28 November 1997 12:00AM
With the millennium nearly upon us, we are on the edge of a new age
of advertising, one that bears a sense of optimism quite different to
the cynicism of recent times.
Every decade is defined by a handful of years. Yuppies symbolised the
80s, although it could be argued that they only stood out from 1986 to
1989. Ads mirrored this egocentric materialism-BA’s ’red eye’ execution
for Club World was a classic example.
The 90s has a split personality. The decade started with talk of a
rejection of superficial consumerism. Ads showed men holding babies and
BA launched a Club World ad featuring a sensitive New Man who dreamed of
This was soon junked as society was gripped by a fear of the future.
We dreaded a world of pollution, a permanent underclass, soaring crime
and an ’everyone for themselves’ culture. Ads preyed on our anxieties,
presenting a world of job insecurity (Allied Dunbar) and eco disaster
On the dawn of not only a new century but also the second millennium, we
feel unsettled. As with the first millennium, we are surrounded by those
that predict disaster. Judgment Day has changed from one of divine
retribution to one of nature or mankind itself punishing us for
polluting the earth. Hollywood has captured this fear in films such as
12 Monkeys and Twister.
Looking back, the optimism of the 50s and 60s is touching. Harold
Macmillan told us that we’d ’never had it so good’; Harold Wilson talked
of the ’white heat of technology’.
We no longer have this confidence, taking refuge in the past
The result is an endless recycling of former glories - neo-classicist
architecture, retro pop music, traditional English recipes. Flares are
back and ads become ever more self-referential.
Will it ever end? As we enter the new millennium we will be living in
our own science fiction, passing through Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001 on the
way to join Buck Rogers in the 25th Century.
And if we are to live in science fiction, then we must act like science
fiction. Interest in new technology and the future is returning.
You can see it everywhere. Architects - often the best at reading the
mood of the time - are rediscovering hyper modern styles. The severing
of the nerve that saw Prince Charles’s neo-classicism on the ascendant
came from a lack of vision for what 90s buildings should look like and
lack of confidence to build them.
But now, with proposals for millennium towers, a new bridge across the
Thames and a new all-glass hotel in Cardiff, people are looking to
buildings to make confident statements again.
The fashion world is looking to technology and new fibres for
inspiration, turning away from endless redesigns of past fashions.
We’ve elected a new government and the youngest prime minister this
Tony Blair is already being compared with John Kennedy and suddenly
people are optimistic again.
In the world of advertising, we are moving from Allied Dunbar’s ’for the
future you don’t yet know’ to ’the future’s bright’ from Orange. The
challenge will be to reflect this optimism in a way that will be
relevant to an ever more ad literate and cynical audience.
Perhaps the way forward for advertisers will be to recognise that people
will be motivated, not by fear, but by the ability of brands to
recognise consumers’ hopes and dreams.
What do your consumers dream of, hope for, aspire to? Do you really
know, or are you five years out of date?
This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk