A Ghost Of Advertising Past (And A Prediction For Its Future)

Here’s a real ghost of Christmas past – a December 1999 UK ad break we found on YouTube. How did commercials look fifteen years ago?

Well, there was talking. A lot of talking. A lot of messages. A lot of bath and body products, too, in this case – with perhaps a bit more flesh than you’d see today. But something is missing. Despite the ad break happening during an ITV showing of The Mighty Ducks, a notoriously sentimental sports-comedy about a kids’ hockey team, there’s very little emotion on show.

Most of these ads are happy to either yell at or cajole their audience, convinced that telling is as good as showing, and that ordering consumers around works as well as making them feel something. It makes for grim watching, to be honest.

Two ads stand out a bit, though. McDonalds’ ad has a nice, wordless story to tell, and resolves some of the negative emotion it brings up as its protagonist endures a frustrating day before getting his burger. And Tunes flirts with negative feelings before turning things around with a surprising twist – though you might feel it’s exploiting a problem as much as criticising it.

But for emotion, that’s about it.

You might be asking yourself, why are we showing you this? Well, December 1999 happens to be when BrainJuicer was founded – though at that point it was basically just the Chief Juicer in his spare room! So we thought it would be fun to look at what advertising was like back then. And it confirmed our suspicions – in the UK at least, advertising really has changed. It’s funnier, less condescending, and makes you feel more than in used to.

We aren’t taking credit for that – it’s down to bold analysts (like Les Binet, Peter Field, Sarah Carter and Bob Heath) who’ve demolished the dreary creed of message-led advertising. And it’s down to bold creatives who have set imagination and emotions free. All we’ve done is come up with the best way of testing that!

It’s an optimistic thought for the holiday season, though – an emotional revolution is underway in marketing and communications, and things really are improving. Most of the speculation about advertising’s future is all about technology – what screens, what channels, what level of personalisation we’ll be used to. But however ads are delivered, one thing seems safe to predict – the ads of 2029 will make people feel more than ever.

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