Change You Can Believe In

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!

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “Change You Can Believe In

  1. My first advertising job included a Mac SE and a seat next to the fax machine – which rang constantly. We still proof read blue lines, sent film to the pubs and used a 3/4 machine to watch reels. Those were simpler times.

  2. How about sending out for type via courier and then using an exacto knife to place it on mechanicals with spray mount? I remember typing insertion orders on 4-carbon copy forms. The only part of the old advertising days that I remember fondly are the birthday lunches that lasted all afternoon and involved martinis!

  3. I started in advertising in 1970. I had a manual typewriter and a stack of cheap yellow copy paper. If I made a mistake I would ball up the paper and start again. Or use yellow or white out until the paper was stiff with hardened correction fluid. Art directors sketched layouts with magic markers. Most knew how to freehand serif typefaces. The others would trace them out of type books. Some would save time by sketching the ad in ink very small and then making a photostat of the layout, blowing it up to the proper size.

    In the middle eighties, Babbit and Reiman leased ONE macintosh computer and without explanation, turned it on in the middle of the studio. Art directors and designers would come up and examine it like apes in the movie 2001 … A couple of the art directors figured out how to open Quark and design an ad. Sort of. Jim Spruell didn’t really know how to open a new document, so he would simply add another page to a document and print it out using the select page option. One document had 100 pages.

    What we did not know at the time but suddenly the leisurely creative pace of advertising was forever changed. No longer would you be able to say that the copy was out being typeset…and go to lunch. You would have to sit at the computer and do it yourself…eating at your desk. Ads suddenly could be client-ready for presentation in a matter of hours or minutes, not days.

    The days of Mad Men and Three Martini Lunches at the Brothers Two in Colony Square or the Coach and Six near BBD&O and Burton Campbell were going away.

  4. Kurt Miller

    Photostat machine was my nemesis. Had to do math and proportion calculations in my head. Ow.

  5. Marie Sutton

    Ah the good ‘ol days…..not! I remember having to take a tape to the airport or the bus station that was due at a radio or tv station the next day. Now we have mp3’s which can be delivered with the click of our mouse. I also remember spreading out the Nielsen books to estimate ratings and shares before we had software to do it for us. But at least I know what the numbers mean because of it.

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