When I first started to work in advertising back in the 90s, ‘adland’ was a generic term of affection used to describe the industry. Today however, thanks to the exploits of adman Don Draper in the hit US television show, ‘Mad Men’ – adland has a fixed point in history and a cast of characters that offer us everything you would expect from an imaginative team of writers.
However, the reality of the show has much less to do with the advertising industry or the romanticised view its creators have crafted of it and much more to do with a very unique and often overlooked period in recent history. The show itself has offered us a nostalgic look into one of the most interesting periods of US history and in doing so it has had a profound impact on modern culture with its influence being seen in everything from filmmaking to fashion.
Yet for many, the show has taken on an almost historic reverence in that it is seen as a documented history of adland. As a result, the industry has come in for a great deal of criticism as parallels are frequently drawn between the fictional Martini drinking, womanising world of Sterling Copper Draper Pryce and the realities of modern day agency life.
Indeed there are some within the newer disciplines that have been adopted by the industry who go to great lengths to distance themselves from the term ‘adland’, preferring instead to feed the popular misconception that advertising agencies are somehow caught in a time loop and incapable of generating an original idea, when it’s the ability of agencies to adapt and evolve ahead of popular culture that sustains them.
Yes Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce provides us with virtually every stereotypical advertising agency cliché you can think of, from the smooth-talking, chain-smoking, misogynist advertising executives to the obligatory Vodka Martini lunches, backstabbing power plays and more womanising than you could shake a lawsuit at; but the fictional world of Don Draper, Peggy Olson and Roger Sterling is just that – a fictional world – a convenient backdrop for telling a series of overlapping human stories. Perhaps that’s the shows truest link to the world of advertising – it’s ability to tell a compelling and believable story.
For those of us working in adland today, the show barley touches on the pioneering work that was being done at the time by the real-life Mad Men of the era – work that underpins so much of the knowledge that is now taken for granted by those so quick to criticise it.
The show also conveniently glosses over another aspect of our industry – one that seems so intent of dividing the industry. In Mad Men, next to no mention is ever made to the technology that enables and facilitates so much of what we do. On the 14th of May, Collision will meet in London to discuss ‘Is Techville Eating Adland’
Adland being defined as the communications sector – advertising, graphic design, content creation, web design and build, SEO, social media etc.
Techville being defined at Internet entrepreneurs and budding technology engineers who are building, apps and cloud-based services.
As an industry, adland has always proven to be an early adaptor and advocate of new technology for the simple reason that it’s always looking for the next competitive or strategic advantage to bring to its clients.
Indeed I recently came across a series of images from Shutterstock that attempted to illustrate how this has always been the case and prompts us to ask some serious questions such as: ‘how much more would copywriter Peggy Olson have accomplished had she had a MacBook at her disposal as opposed to her old typewriter and would Don’s Hawaiian presentation have received a warmer welcome had he jazzed it up with the power of cloud computing as opposed to his presentation boards?’
So my question is this – instead of seeing adland and techville as being two different places with conflicting interests, shouldn’t we think of techville as being the place where most of the people working in adland actually live?