The Rise of the giants.

Illustration by Principal #590066

In 2015, three academics, Dr. Tom R Burns, Dr. Ugo Corte (both from Uppsala University, Sweden) and Dr. Nora I. Machado des Johansson (Lisbon University, Portugal) collaborated to work on a research paper to argue and establish how the key factors in creative activity are socially based and developed. Creativity, the paper read, “…is the hallmark of human adaptation, survival, and development.”

Researches and findings from several thousand years of human activities have validated Dr. Burns and his teams’ argument — how innovations and inventions over the ages have been a manifestation of creative development as a result of social needs and wants. And thus, we have evidences of the crudely designed stone age weapons, the wheel, the printer’s ink, the gunpowder, the airplane, the modern-age computer, and so on… human needs giving shape to one invention after another.

Much before these inventions, there was something more compelling happening around the world. From royal bards and poets to missionaries and holy men, stories and folklores covering kings and queens, epics and fantasies, spirituality and moral values, were being spread across the lands by means of verbal discourses. This, one could claim was the oldest form of creative communication as per modern definition — a predecessor to advertisement the way we know and understand today, of informing and influencing consumers.

These verbal discourses soon gave way to written texts. Royal messages started getting inscribed on tablets or scribbled on papyrus or cloths. Merchants and traders soon took the cue and wall paintings and handwritten scrolls started appearing in town squares — announcing their goods and wares. This was the start of a new chapter in the history of advertising — print campaigns.

Several centuries later, formal advertising got introduced with the printing press making its way in 15th century Europe, thanks to Johannes Gutenberg. This took mass media communication to a new level with printed materials travelling to distant lands and information reaching out to more and more people.

But, it was not before 19th century that newspaper ads gained prominence. During those days, the ads were text heavy and were in the form of announcements for different services. As their numbers grew, they had to be ‘classified’ into categories in dedicated newspaper columns. By 1870 there were over 5000 newspapers in circulation in the USA, which carried advertisements, prompting the need for specialised agencies to manage advertising services.

These agencies used to buy spaces in newspapers in bulk and then sell these spaces in smaller fragments at a much higher price to advertisers. They were essentially resellers of newspaper space, while the advertisers worked on the copy.

Some, like R.F. White & Sons in London, UK (regarded as the oldest agency by Guinness World Records & History of Advertising Trusts) provided assistance with the text through literary experts like Charles Lamb, a friend of James ‘Jem’ White, the founder. Much before the American agencies would take over the world, White’s agency, founded in early 1800s was the first to not only sell space, but also offer basic design and ad-content.

Illustration by Principal — #590066

On the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, in the US, Volney Palmer was the first person to use the term ‘advertising agency’ when he started one in Philadelphia in 1841; by 1849, he was the sole agent of 1300 of the estimated 2000 newspapers published then. But it was not until 1900 that copywriters would formally be a part of an agency. This could happen under the vision of Francis Wayland Ayer, who in 1869 started an agency by the name of N.W. Ayer & Son and had acquired Palmer’s agency in 1877.

Ayer hired Jarvis Wood as the industry’s first full-time copywriter. A second copywriter joined four years later. The industry’s first Art Department grew out of the Copy Department when Ayer hired its first commercial artist to assist with copy preparation in 1898; twelve years later Ayer became the first agency to offer the services of a full time art director, whose sole responsibility was the design and illustration of ads.

For most of its history, N.W. Ayer & Son was the undisputed leader and innovator in advertising — leaving its mark with memorable slogans and creative works for firms such as De Beers, R J Reynolds, AT&T, Kellogg’s & the US Army. Over a 100 years later, in 2002, Publicis Groupe of Paris would acquire N.W. Ayer & Son.

Almost during the same time, when Ayer acquired Palmer’s agency, another agency was taking shape in New York. This was J. Walter Thompson (JWT).

In 1902, Unilever hired JWT to manage the advertising duties for Lifebuoy — a partnership that would become the longest in advertising history. Incidentally, JWT has many such long term associations with leading advertisers, some of which included Kraft Foods, Kimberly-Clark, Nestle, Kellogg’s, among others.

In 1899, JWT became the first American agency to expand internationally with the opening of its office in London. Within the next three decades, it expanded across Egypt, South Africa and Asia. Most of the expansion was caused due to one of its major accounts that it was managing during those years — General Motors. As the auto giant expanded beyond the American market, set to take on global markets, it persuaded its agency to follow suit to help the company promote its brands in the new markets.

Meanwhile, Ayer’s agency also moved international for a similar reason, as they were tasked to manage the advertising duties of the rival auto brand, Ford Motors. 19 years after the launch of the super successful Model T, when the sales was just about waning for the company, Model A was announced. The launch ad campaign would be one of the most innovative in years to come — a series of 5 full page advertisements released on 5 subsequent days, with the new product getting revealed on the fifth day. Sales of Model A crossed three million within the first three years itself, a success only second to its predecessor, Model T.

The credit for the innovative launch campaign of Ford’s Model A rests much on the skills of N W Ayer & Son’s copywriter, George Cecil. By then, many have mastered the art of writing copy for advertisements. But it was one man, who had laid the foundation for creative copywriting over five decades back. Around the 1870s, Lord & Taylor, one of America’s oldest luxury departmental stores, hired a young copywriter by the name of John Emory Powers. Powers used to work part-time, writing ad copies for the retailer. His creative writing skills caught the attention of John Wanamaker, the owner of Grand Depot (later became Wanamaker’s), a large format departmental store in Philadelphia. During Power’s association, Wanamaker’s revenues doubled from $4 million to $8 million. Powers’ style of copywriting would go down the echelons of advertising history; his style was a unique blend of short, to-the-point, truthful and convincing and would soon inspire an era of simple, straightforward ads that convey why consumers should buy. Advertising Age regarded him as the ‘father of modern creative advertising’.

By the start of the new millennium, in 1902, Alfred Erickson started an advertising agency, which later joined hands with Harry McCann to form McCann Erickson. With its first office in New York, the agency later expanded into a global advertising network with offices in 120 countries. It is currently a part of the Interpublic Group of Companies (IPG) along with other agencies serving diverse communication needs of some of the biggest corporate conglomerates around the globe. McCann (as it is currently called) has become synonymous with Coke’s “It’s the real thing” and MasterCard’s “There are some things money can’t buy. For everything else, there’s MasterCard.

On the far-eastern part of the globe in Tokyo, Hironao Seki founded Hakuhodo in 1895 as an advertising space broker for educational magazines. After 120 years, it is one of the largest integrated marketing companies in this part of the globe with over 150 offices in 20 countries. A few years later, Hoshiro Mitsunaga founded Japan Advertising Ltd in 1901. Around 50 years later, it would come to be known as Dentsu, one of the top 5 global advertising groups in the world today.

One of the biggest boosts to the advertising industry in USA happened due to the rapid industrialisation that took place through the 1880s and the ’90s. With the supply of manufactured goods increasing, product differentiation was the need of the moment. Agencies started realizing the need to create impactful brand communication through text and visuals. They gradually started evolving into a full service agency — offering ad creative, composition and space management.

Branding and packaging equally gained significance during this time. Brands like Quaker Oats, Pepsi Cola and Camel cigarettes got introduced. Consumers started identifying brands based on their logos and relate to their attributes and values.

The industrial growth during the last decade of the 19th century and increasing consumerism, also led to an explosive growth in agencies around the 1920s. Most of these agencies set shop in New York’s Madison Avenue — which gradually evolved into a hub for the advertising world — and even a background for the 2007 AMC television drama Mad Men, which highlighted the advertising industry during the 1960s.

During these years, the agencies got to experiment with a new medium with the arrival of radio. Although print — newspaper and magazine — was the primary medium of communication, but agencies were opening up to radio very fast. The first sponsored content on radio was premiered in 1923 when N.W. Ayer & Son produced “The Eveready Hour” on WEAF Radio in New York. The show was paid for by National Carbon Company, which owned the brand Eveready Battery.

In 1928, a new agency — BBDO — was formed in New York by the merger of two smaller agencies Batten Company and BDO (Barton, Durstine and Osborn). It went on to bag the account of DuPont in 1935 and created its slogan “Better Things for Better Living… Through Chemistry.” The slogan was modified in 1980 by removing ‘Through Chemistry’ till it was finally replaced in 1999 — one of the longest running slogans ever made. In 1986 BBDO decided to merge its operations with DDB Needham to create Omnicom, a global integrated communication conglomerate. Since 2007, BBDO has won 5 consecutive “Network of the Year” at Cannes in addition to multiple global awards — a rarest of rare feat for its immense creative prowess.

Interestingly, during the first half of the 20th century, most of the actions in the world of advertisement were taking place in the North American continent. America was truly the land of opportunities. Mainland Europe was trying to cope with the devastations of the WWI when in another twenty years, WWII struck. Although there was nothing much exciting happening in Europe during this time, a 20-year old Marcel Bleustein-Blanchet laid the foundation of an agency in 1926 in Paris. With a slow start and a lean structure, the new agency would grow into one of the top 4 advertising groups in the world — with most of the growth happening post WWII. This was the beginning of journey for Publicis Groupe, which today owns Leo Burnett, Bartle Bogle Hegarty, Saatchi & Saatchi, Starcom Mediavest, ZenithOptimedia, among others, offering a range of marketing and communication solutions.

The 1930s was a period of The Great Depression in the American economy, forcing layoffs, reduction in ad spends and decline in advertising profits as newspaper circulation waned. This was the moment of glory for radio to move ahead as the preferred medium. The first soap in broadcasting history was aired in 1930 over WGN-AM Chicago, called “Clara, Lu and Em.” A year later, as interest for the programme grew, the show was sponsored by Colgate-Palmolive.

The success of radio could be gauged by the fact that its ad revenues surpassed that of magazines for the first time in 1938.

In 1935, yet another American advertising agency got founded in New York — Leo Burnett Company. Burnett, the founder, was a former Cadillac employee who worked closely with Theodore F MacManus, whom he considered his advertising mentor. Later, after the first world war and The Great Depression, he moved to Chicago to work for an advertising agency.

Leo Burnett Company today operates out of 85 global offices and employs over 9000 people. Burnett himself was a creative genius and developed some of the most notable characters, which would become synonymous with their brands — Jolly Green Giant, Tony the tiger (Kellogg’s), Marlboro Man, Pillsbury Doughboy, Keebler Elves, Morris the cat (9 Lives), among others.

By the early 1940, television started making way in American homes. As per record, there were around 7500 television sets in New York city in 1941. This yet again opened up another new medium for advertising. The same year, the first TV commercial for Bulova clocks got aired.

During this time, a young Virginia born creative maverick, Rosser Reeves rose to prominence. Moving onto New York, he founded Ted Bates & Co. (later to become Bates Worldwide) along with Ted Bates. Reeves strongly believed that the purpose of advertisement is to sell and every product should have a Unique Selling Proposition (USP) through which consumers could understand its real value. The biggest creative contribution by Reeves was his 59-second commercial of Anacin, which in 7-years made more money in sales than many Hollywood blockbusters of that time. He would also be remembered for his commercials for Bic pens, Minute Maid orange juice, M&M’s candies, Colgate toothpaste and other products.

Illustration by Principal #590066

Around the same time when Reeves was ruling the commercial world with television advertisements, in 1948, David Ogilvy founded the agency that would become Ogilvy & Mather. Ogilvy was an Englishman, who as an expatriate, had come to America to work for George Gallup’s Audience Research Institute in New Jersey. He later had admitted that it was his tenure at Gallup that influenced him majorly to think, emphasize on meticulous research methods and adhere to reality. Ogilvy & Mather marked the golden age of creativity.

From the very beginning, Ogilvy was determined to build a strong agency brand. The first two fundamental components of that brand would be the quality and diversity of the people, and the quality and class of the operation.

Ogilvy famously said, “Only first class business, and that in a first class way.” The third component was his belief in brands — “Every advertisement is part of the long-term investment in the personality of the brand.

Regarded as the ‘Father of Advertising’, Ogilvy went on to build several global brands, the most notable of which included Dove, Hathaway’s shirt, Rolls Royce and Schweppes. Other clients that have worked closely with the agency have been American Express, Merrill Lynch, IBM and Govt. of India’s Ministry of Tourism (Incredible India! campaign).

Post WWII and the period of baby boom, television started replacing both print and radio and in 1954, CBS became the largest advertising medium in the world.

Then in 1959 came yet another head-turner. The ‘Think Small’ campaign for Volkswagen Beetle. Brilliantly executed by art director Helmut Krone and copywriter Julian Koenig at the Doyle Dane Bernbach (to become DDB Needham in 1986 and then merge with BBDO to form Omnicom in 1996). Ad Age adjudged the campaign as the the best of the twentieth century. This advertisement reinforced Madison Avenue’s supremacy as the epicentre of advertising creativity.

But, the 1960s was an equally turbulent period for the advertising world. The industry was going through a period of transformation. It was an era dominated by the creative executive, formation of advertising conglomerates, pre-eminence of television and the advent of innovative technologies — the copier and computers. Boutique agencies were transformed into larger groups, they then merged, went public and formed basis for even larger conglomerates that we know of today.

Somewhere here, William Bernbach, aka Bill Bernbach changed advertising as we know it. Till he came to the scene in the 60s, advertising was considered to be fact-based persuasion. He realized it is emotion based.

A new war was gaining storm in the advertising world. A 1961 Pepsi ad campaign read “For those who think young”; a new generation of consumers — the Pepsi Generation — was about to split the advertising industry and lead the world to a never-ending cola war (between Pepsi and Coca Cola). A few years later, JWT created a unique campaign for 7UP — “The Uncola”, with an intent to sell individuality by differentiating itself from the cola brands — Pepsi and Coke.

The world was changing fast. By the early 70s, television had penetrated more households than ever. Newer agencies were popping up fast, while older agencies were merging with others. In 1970, four individuals with different nationalities joined hands to start TBWA in Paris. The founding members were William G Tragos (American), Claude Bonnange (French), Uli Wiesendanger (Swiss) and Paolo Airoldi (Italian). Omnicom would later acquire TBWA in 1993.

Another agency that came into existence during this period was Saatchi and Saatchi. Founded by brothers Maurice and Charles in 1970 in London, they gained prominence from political campaigns for the Conservative Party in 1979 British General Elections and ongoing campaigns for Silk Cut cigarettes and British Airways. Saatchi and Saatchi would finally be a part of the Publicis Groupe in 2000. It was during their early years that the agency produced its first famous ad — the ‘Pregnant Man’ for the UK’s Health Education Council featuring a man who appeared to be pregnant. Other notable accounts served by the agency in later years included British Leyland, Dunlop, Associated Newspapers and Nestle.

A lot of scientific research in advertising and marketing were taking place during this time in various US Universities. Think Tanks, industry thought leaders and marketing gurus were all coining different terms every other day. One such term was ‘Positioning.’ In 1972, Al Ries and Jack Trout wrote an article in Ad Age titled, “Positioning: The Battle for your mind.” Advertisement professionals and marketing experts started deliberating on how consumer perception works with respect to their brands. Another academic, Herbert Simon, introduced the concept of ‘Attention Economics’ — it treats a potential consumer’s attention as a resource, laying the foundation to modern day social media analytics.

The 1980s was an era of consolidation. Bigger fishes were gobbling up smaller fishes to create mega agencies. This was also the time when consumption of beauty and fashion goods as a means of self-indulgence was on the rise. On the technology front, in 1981, IBM introduced the personal computer (PC) and three years later, Steve Jobs launched the Macintosh with the first Super Bowl commercial directed by filmmaker Ridley Scott.

Illustration by Principal #590066

This decade witnessed the launch of yet another creative agency, Wieden+Kennedy (W+K) in 1982. Founded by Dan Wieden and David Kennedy, it is currently one of the largest independently held advertising agencies in the world. It shot to fame with its association with Nike and yes, who could forget the “Just Do It” slogan, coined by Dan Wieden. Beyond advertising, W+K has created original content for various brands under the umbrella agency W+K Entertainment. More lately, in 2015, it managed the ‘Make in India’ campaign for the Govt. of India.

By the advent of the 1990s, agencies realised that advertising could not be the only means of shaping a brand image in the mind of the consumer; messages from other sources could be equally effective. A clutter of advertisements across print, radio and television and a rising volume of me-too products meant that agencies had to innovate. This was when agencies realised the potential of integrated marketing communication — a mix of different communication vehicles like events, sales meets, PR, promotional programmes and advertising — offering unified customer centric messages.

The nineties was also the time when internet was gradually reaching out across the world wide web. Total number of internet users in 1993 was reported at 5 million. Around 1995, search engines Yahoo! and Alta Vista got launched. Two years later, Ask.com joined the search engine party. The very next year, in 1998, Google and MSN were introduced to the world. In 2000, total internet users crossed 400 million, making it the fastest growing ad medium ever.

Disruption was the key in the new millennium. A cycle of unlearning and relearning started taking place all around. Agencies were gearing up to move from their traditional brick and mortar model and go digital.

By now, advertisements started invading mobile phones. In 2000, a Finnish news outlet was the first to offer sponsored news headlines via SMS. Almost at the same time, MySpace was launched in 2003. This opened up an era of social media proliferation across the internet. In 2005, Google Analytics and YouTube got launched. Facebook launched soon after in the same year.

Google’s AdSense and AdWords, Facebook’s ad services and Twitter’s growing influence in the ad world has shifted the ad industry’s centre of gravity from Madison Avenue to the Silicon Valley and World Wide Web. Ad buying and designing has today become more decentralised with start-ups of different sizes and shapes offering specialised services. And this is a global phenomenon today.

Advertising has experienced lot more dynamic changes in the past ten years, as against the 150 years preceding this period. Embracing technology is no more an option, but a compulsion. The number of eyeballs a day that an OOH hoarding caught on the busiest streets of New York or Mumbai 20 years back, is just a fraction of the total reach a digital campaign achieves within an hour today. However, there is no denying the fact that the bedrock of creativity was laid by the masters of yesteryears. Agencies - new and old - will keep on drawing inspirations from the foresightedness, experimentations and iconoclasm of these mavericks.

As in the past, creative agencies will keep on evolving over the years. They will bring about a freshness in their operational models - become more decentralised, function remotely, use technology and AI-driven processes, introduce disruptive pricing. But the only constant in the entire scheme of things that will remain unchanged is what David Ogilvy once stated, "If it doesn't sell, it isn't creative."

By Principals : #f46464 #590066


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