The Feldwick Factor

Paul Feldwick

What can the history of advertising tell us about its future?

There's a short and slightly cynical answer to this: what we learn from history is that not much ever changes in the world of advertising. My old boss, Keith Reinhard, used to challenge audiences to name a business that had changed less in 40 years than the advertising agency – no-one, he claimed, had ever been able to do so.

Certainly, technology changes, even business models have changed beyond recognition, yet the roles of 'account men' and 'creatives' are instantly recognisable from Mad Men's agency of the Sixties, or Dorothy L Sayers' fictional agency of the Twenties in Murder Must Advertise. All the key concepts of current advertising – attention, proposition, brand image, recall, response rates – are from 50 to over 100 years old. Above all, the culture doesn't change: its 'strange blend of assertion and obedience, prosperity and insecurity, flamboyance and timidity' was neatly summarised by Martin Mayer in 1957, and while there may be a little less prosperity and flamboyance around today, you wouldn't know it at Cannes.