OPINION: Agencies must try to catch the mood of the millennium - As the apprehensive 90s draws to a close, adland must realise that the millennium consumer will be motivated by aspiration not fear, Nick Johnson believes

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.

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

his family.

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

(Carling Premier).

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?


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