In 1990, the U.K. had just four tv channels.
Only two aired commercials.
In that year the BBC aired this five part series about advertising.
They didn’t skimp on time or money and aired it in primetime.
I wonder whether this could happen today?
True, they were only competing against three other channels.
There was no internet back then.
No Netflix to compete with.
The gaming industry was like an amoeba at this point.
There were no mobile phones.
Barely anyone had computers.
So in retrospect, maybe the lack of entertainment available made a 5-part documentary on advertising feel like something that might interest the general public?
Or maybe it was down to the public’s view of advertising at that time; they liked it.
Maybe not as much as their firstborn, dog or chocolate, but it was often considered entertaining, funny and clever.
In his excellent book ‘Why Does The Pedlar Sing?’ Paul Feldwick recounts “Thirty years ago, the majority of the British public agreed that ‘Sometimes the ads are better than the programmes’ – the proportion that agree today is vanishingly small.”
Maybe that lack of Youtube, Netflix, Twitter and the rest meant that even adverts seemed entertaining?
Or, maybe it was because entertaining was considered part of the process of advertising at the time?
When I signed up, in 1985, one of the first bits of advice I was given was to ‘make sure you always give a spoonful of sugar with the medicine’.
Sounds a bit creepy now, but the basic premise still holds – if you make ads that people like watching they’ll hear your message.
Maybe multiple times.
Last year, Orlando Wood wrote ‘Lemon’, an IPA backed study on the state of our industry, Adam & Eve’s Global Planning Partner Sarah Carter described it as ‘an urgent wake-up call and a simple rallying cry for us all – ‘we need to entertain for commercial gain’.’’
The notion that the public may choose to watch a documentary on advertising in primetime isn’t the only aspect of this series that feels a bit out of time.
Some of ads would lead to custodial sentences today, the shoulder pads would be considered harmful to the public at large and the haircuts are particularly problematic.
But it does a great job of capturing British advertising from 1955 to 1990.
So at this point, 2021, the series is like a halftime assessment of the business.
With everyone blissfully unaware of the changes to come, both good and bad.
EPISODE 1: She’s Not a Moron – She’s Your Wife.
Looking at how adverts for cleaning, shopping and cooking products have, or have not, changed over the past 35 years.
EPISODE 2: Big! Big! Big!
Examining the portrayal of men from the 1950s to the 80s and beyond.
EPISODE 3: Buy Some For Lulu
A look at the changing face of children and teenagers in adverts, from the vulnerable, cossetted infants of the 1950s to the tough sophisticated kids of the 1980s.
EPISODE 4: Sixpence Worth of Heaven.
Exploring the use of fantasy and aspiration to sell products such as Babycham, Camay, Flake, Palmolive, Sunsilk, Renault, Charlie and Chanel to women.
EPISODE 5: The Getaway People.
Discussing how advertising in post-war Britain can be viewed as a barometer of the pendulum shifts in national mood and the way we perceive ourselves.