The discussion of how unchanging advertising agencies have been over the last fifty years is a bit tiresome. It’s a lazy criticism that ignores the fact that the work coming out of many agencies has changed enormously over the last five years, let alone the last fifty. But you can understand where the criticism comes from when so many agencies look the same as they always have, sound likewise and cling, with transparent desperation, to their broadcast-centric solutions and their over-complicated, title-heavy structures.
I was in a locksmith the other day and was struck by the fact that it is the only other business I can think of that has, in both appearance and delivery, changed as little as the advertising industry. Walk into almost any suburban locksmith, shut the door behind you and you could quite readily believe that it’s 1976. Most of the stock hasn’t rotated since that date – the stands of shoelaces, the dusty tins of Parade Gloss polish and the gold-plated cigar cutters. The guy behind the counter is clearly pining for the days when a customer would venture in requesting three keys cut for his new Holden Belmont, a pair of Dr Scholl’s therapeutic insoles for his Mrs and a faux-pewter drinking vessel, engraved with the legend ‘Out of my mind, back in ten minutes’, to take pride of place on the wetbar he’s just had installed in his Den. In his heart the locksmith is cursing these new-fangled cars with their keyless entry and apartment buildings with their access codes and keycard readers. He just wants things to be like they were and for people to want more keys.
It feels a bit sad and you wonder how all these locksmiths manage to survive, exactly the same feeling I get when I go into most advertising agencies.