It occurred to me the other day as I was making my drive down Hwy. 40 from Raleigh to Charlotte, that there was something missing along sides of the road – something that, 2 or 3 years ago was present in abundance. Was it billboards? No. They’re still there dotting the landscape in all their “glory” making their 36 x 10 ft sales pitches to passers-by. No; what, to me, was conspicuously absent was something most people probably haven’t missed one bit: good creative.
This got me thinking and that’s always a scary thing…
I can remember a time not so long ago when it seemed most every business was looking to a ad agency to handle all their advertising and marketing. Companies had the budgets to pay top dollar for the high end look and smartly angled message that ad agencies were capable of delivering. Commercial breaks on TV networks were so rich with clever ad concepts and catchy slogans that watching the commercials was almost as entertaining (at least for an ad woman like me) as the shows themselves.
It seems that great advertising design may very well be one of the many casualties of a sagging economy. With severely cut budgets many businesses seem to be opting for the cheapest marketing solutions possible or even more drastically, cutting out advertising all together. Many of those who continue to advertise seem to be outsourcing the design to lowest bidder which often tends to be the – oh shall we say – “aesthetically challenged” but highly motivated freelancer. Still others I’ve heard are resorting to even more drastic measures by having a non-designer with a copy of Photoshop (shriek!) do the work in-house – often with the most interesting results.
In the golden and glamorous days of advertising – the kind of days portrayed in the show Mad Men – agencies like Ogilvy and Mather created campaigns that slunk into the mind of the consumer like a sexy lady, showing just a glimpse of leg at first then slowly, inch by inch revealing a message too compelling to ignore. Nowadays , there’s simply no time for all that. It would seem that in the global World of advertising and marketing, quantity has kick quality’s butt. There is simply no escape from being whacked in the face by desperate attempts to win consumer attention every way one turns.
Yes, gone, at least for now, are the days of allocating huge budgets to pay top agencies to pull rabbits out of their advertising hats. Further still, I’ve been noticing that the agencies themselves can no longer afford to pay top dollar to hire the most talented “creatives.” In the past couple of years, it’s become too obvious to ignore that even the many agencies have lost a good bit of their creative edge, opting instead for selling large bundles of internet-based marketing, where vast spam campaigns can cover much more ground for much less cost. Don’t get me wrong – I build websites myself and they ARE crucial to the success of any organization. In fact, I would go even further to say that I doubt that, these days, a business could realize it’s full potential without having a well-executed, well-managed website. I also believe in the power and effectiveness of internet marketing. However, that doesn’t stop me from feeling the loss of beauty and cleverness that the internet has indirectly visited upon the World of traditional advertising.
It is my sincere hope that we will again return, at least in part, to the days of good design when quality won out over quantity. Someday I hope to drive down a major highway and see it’s sides once again dotted with smart ad campaigns that are also beautiful to look upon. I will cling to my own belief that good design and quality branding will always win out over cheap, mass-mailed messages. After all, how much advertising can the global market hold? At some point, probably soon, it will all become a homogenized sea of visual spam. But that’s a subject for another day. Hopefully, this is not truly the DEATH of good design but more of brief slumber. As we navigate these waters of a challenging economy, let us remember that quality and beauty have a place in advertising and when the seas calm a bit, perhaps good design will make a comeback.