Media Perspective: What's happened to all of our influential advertising figures?

I've recently been involved in one of those lists newspapers get together to fill a slow news week - The 50 Most Influential Non-Elected People in Britain. It was excellent fun having irresolvable debates about whether Wayne Rooney is more influential than Brendan Barber, or arguing if Dr Rowan Williams is influential just because of his job or whether he "punches above his weight for an Archbishop".

Who wouldn't like to be in a meeting where a phrase like that comes up? What was sad, though, was that, try as I might, I couldn't get an advertising person on the list. I made a bold stab for Robert Saville of Mother - iconic work, new ways of doing business, much admired abroad - but no-one was buying it. I think Alan Titchmarsh edged him out. And it's not to have a go at Mr Saville (he'd still be advertising's best case), it's just the industry really has lost some cultural impact. There was a time when you could imagine several advertising names on such a list: John Webster, the Saatchis, David Abbott, the usual suspects, and more recently Trevor Beattie might have popped up. But these days there's no-one, and it's made me wonder why not.

The obvious suggestion is that advertising's just not as good as it used to be, and though I'd like to resist such an argument (because I hate that kind of nostalgia about music or television or most things), it's hard to deny. It's mostly just good old-fashioned supply and demand, there's not as much talent, flare and originality in our business because there doesn't need to be.

Advertising is less central to the success of most businesses than it once was (because more and more alternatives have developed), and things that are less necessary tend to attract less money and less talent.

But it's also because advertising's cultural potency has been diluted in a pop culture that's stuffed to the brim with new and shiny stuff. We're in a golden age for television, a new magazine is invented every 30 seconds, everyone who wants to can create media and share it with the world. And advertising just can't compete. Our tools, philosophies and habits were moulded when we were living with three TV channels and the three-day week, and we've been painfully slow to adapt.

And, maybe, it's about the role models we create. The current generation of highly successful new agencies do many things well, but they're not creating the kind of work that will bump Alan Titchmarsh off a "most influential" list. Perhaps if we addressed this, tried to raise our game and create a culturally potent industry again, we wouldn't have to worry about anti-advertising legislation so much. People rarely try to ban stuff they really like.

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