It’s that time again. The decade is well into its second half and
the inevitable process of backward reflection and forward projection is
taking place. How can we define the 90s and what will the millennium be
We researchers often start to ask these questions in order to increase
our understanding of the people we interview and help our clients
develop increasingly effective advertising.
When I look back at the advertising of the past decade, it is the move
from outward display to inner reflection that strikes me most
The advertising of the pre-recession 80s had the confidence to make
overt statements about the brand user - ’I am what I do, how I look’. In
contrast, the advertising of the mid-90s has been far more covert in
style - ’I am what I think and feel’.
It represents a move from lifestyle to mindstyle advertising.
The end of the 80s saw the heyday of so-called lifestyle advertising:
’The brand for the life you live (or would like to live) today.’
It didn’t really matter what product category it was. You just provided
the vignette - busy mum leaving household chores to play badminton, or
young, single guy relaxing alone in a converted warehouse flat.
Perhaps you added a good tune and then slotted in the brand - cash card,
personal computer, frozen meal, chewing gum, car, airline etc.
This isn’t to say that there wasn’t some excellent lifestyle advertising
which caught the mood of the moment while still being firmly rooted in
the product truth.
The ads seemed to be saying nothing about the product and everything
about its users with whom it was increasingly difficult to identify.
The 90s and the recession hit and they’d had enough of Sloanes, Yuppies
and Dinkies. Then, when the caring, sharing environmentally conscious
male architect was seen to tear up his plans for concreting over the
Lake District while thoughtfully sipping his pint, we all knew that this
style of lifestyle advertising was dead.
Debriefs became littered with words like authenticity, integrity,
honesty, product truth and individuality. The focus of the advertising
began to move towards the product - Levi’s even started talking about
rivets and stitching again.
If the ads didn’t focus on the surface style then what was to be the
hook that would enable an increasingly advertising-literate target to
identify with the brand?
The solution: attitude and the way people think. Nike’s ’Just do it’ and
Tango’s irreverence rule the 90s.
So lifestyle gave way to mindstyle and we started to search for the hero
inside ourselves. Brands began to carry our unique hopes, dreams and
ambitions and we were predisposed to choose them over their competitors
because they understood.
Or did we? Somewhere along the line I have the sneaking suspicion that
the product and what it does is getting lost again.
In particular, the clothes and furniture of club culture and new age
sensibility may allow us to be seduced into thinking that the 90s
depiction of internal attitude is no different from 80s lifestyle
advertising with all the same traps waiting to ensnare us.
I believe mindstyle advertising is lifestyle in another guise and, if
not handled with caution, by the end of the decade the results will be
the same. The product will get lost and the advertiser will lose the
consumer in a morass of irrelevant post-modern irony.