Today, we feel more for brands than we ever did. This isn't just because we can now buy more amazing stuff although yes, a hoverboard, driverless cars or a trip to outer space are better than lawnmowers, hair oil and pipe tobacco it's because the way we are being advertised to has changed. It's all digital's fault, and life is all the better for it.
Because until that big wiry thing came along, every ad we consumed was aspirational. These things made us feel like other people were great, but really you weren't. These majestic dreamboats smoked by waterfalls on horseback. They raced yachts across Italian lakes with sweaters 'round their necks, laughing as they sipped coffee. They took their hats off and flung their hair around on airplanes to applause from pilots. But you were rubbish. You could buy this crap, but that was the nearest you could get to ever being awesome. Amazingly, this approach worked for years.
Until someone decided to tell more of a story and actually connect to their market. Today we see campaigns that change our minds, move our hearts and even change our opinions about the companies who make them. We watch them and watch them again, we Like them, comment on them, share them and even tell everyone else we love them.
Which means the connection we have to these brands is real and strong and valuable. We feel good about them. So why are we feeling this? We buy more, watch more, drive more, eat more, and throw it all away more. We are generally desensitized to being sold to and skip every ad we see. In other words, we are cynical, weary folk. So how do we suddenly have the time, inclination and energy to feel so strongly about what we buy?
Well, first we need to go back in time. From the 17th century to the 1920s, if you wanted to sell anything you advertised in the main medium going newspapers. Maybe a sign outside your shop if you were feeling continental, or a jazzy wooden sandwich board, but basically that was it. Magazines came along in the 19th century and then color printing was an option, proper feature-length copy appeared (the early version of the infomercial) as did the celebrity endorsement.
People sat up and took notice of these gloriously tinted images and the endless outpourings of writers working without the confines of legal obligations (as in 'Blow smoke in her face and she'll follow you anywhere' and getting babies to shave with razors to show how safe they were).
Radio crackled along next and suddenly we're being vocally told what to buy by a snob in a dinner suit. We don't even have to read! Then, TV brought the whole show together with action sequences, and beautiful actors, and endless sunshine, and a dream of a beautiful, smiley life you'll never actually have because you hammer Ford Pintos together all week in Detroit, and this is the '70s.
Yep, aspiration was still everything and you were still awful.
But then digital came along and ushered in advertising that could actually reach us.
Suddenly, marketers didn't need to ram home a 1,000-word message in 10 seconds or pay doctors to say that lard was great for kids. Instead, agencies began creating powerful, truthful content that touched us and resonated on a deeper level than a press ad ever could.
Animation was reinvented, special effects became seamlessly real and digital technology advanced at such a rate that anything you wanted could be done and cost-effectively. Brands began to take a step back and dig deeper to find who they were and what they stood for, and then spent serious creative energy getting that message across in ways that genuinely moved us.
Look at the P&G 'Thank you, Mom' campaign. This isn't selling a single product, it's selling a feeling. Watch the Listerine 'Smile' campaign, the Always 'Throw Like a Girl' campaign, the 'No Label' one from Coke, 'Real Beauty' sketches from Dove. All genius, all amazing, all move us - and we love it.
And although some cost mad money to make, most don't. Which means smaller agencies can now tell a story and compete with the major players.
Creativity is king and that is hugely good.
And the stars of these ads have changed too. Now we hear accents from all over the place and the language is normal and conversational. We don't need to see models or the rich and famous anymore. We see and relate to real people and we identify with them. We're included and empowered. The new, genuine honesty in these campaigns is completely disarming and utterly refreshing.
Here's another thing, this new generation of campaigns take much, much longer to get their message across. They actually slow you down and ask you to pay attention. But we're happy to do that because we're being educated and entertained and given a new perspective.
We're seeing the truth, and it turns out we like that. Even if we're shamed to the core like in the Always campaign, we don't mind. Advertising like this isn't dumbing us down anymore. Digital is making us more informed, inspired, motivated and engaged than we ever have been. And if you can do that for everything from charities to health, from sport to the environment, from retirement funds to children's welfare even lawnmowers, hair oil and pipe tobacco then there's something rather brilliant going on here.
Mainly that we don't need smokers on horseback to make us buy anything.