My grandparents used to tell me stories about what things were like back in the “olden days.” You know… the simpler time before the television, microwave, cell phone, computer, and video game ruined everything. Days when families sat together at the dinner table every night, and kids had to walk to school, uphill in both directions, with no shoes, in the middle of a snowstorm.
Their stories made me laugh, but as a child, I never gave much thought to how different their lives must have been before the technological advances of the past 50+ years.
With my 40th birthday less than a month away, I began thinking about how much different my life inside an advertising agency is today versus when I started in this industry. It has only been 18 years, yet it is somewhat shocking to me how much the art and science of advertising has evolved in this short time.
On my first day as an Assistant Media Planner at Ogilvy & Mather, I was asked whether I wanted a typewriter or a computer in my cubicle. This wasn’t 1970. It was 1991. Not that long ago! I selected the computer, which came programmed with a word processing program, a spreadsheet program and a program to create flowcharts and input media buys. That’s it. No e-mail. No PowerPoint. No internet. The fax machine (with rolled paper), regular mail and inter-office envelopes were staples of the job… and our only methods of communication.
I was responsible for generating media plans for some of the largest Fortune 50 brands in the U.S., and although I had some great tools to work with, it is remarkable how unsophisticated they were. We had access to Nielsen, Arbitron, SRDS and MRI (not the nice Web version we have now – a version that required you to search for long and complicated codes in giant 3-ring binders!). I’ll never forget having to calculate reach and frequency by hand! For 1991, this was adequate, as the media options weren’t all that sophisticated. Everything was about reaching mass audiences and screaming louder than your competition. Cable television was still a bit “out there,” and niche magazines hadn’t taken off yet.
We have come a long way since then. Not only have the tools of the job evolved (just look at what the internet and social media have done to the recent advertising landscape), but the job itself has changed. It is now all about one-to-one communication, building relationships with your consumers, and outwitting your competition. And everything has gotten much more strategic and measurable. Gone are the days of throwing millions of advertising dollars out in the marketplace and hoping they reach the right folks and increase sales. Clients now hold themselves and their agencies to a much tougher standard – every dollar and every message is scrutinized, and must be able to be tracked back to a positive return.
I was always amazed at how my grandparents adapted to change throughout their lifetime, and I never thought I’d see an era with as much change as theirs. I’m starting to think I was wrong!