The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there. And few territories have changed more in the past 40 years than marketing and the media.
In 1978, the year we launched Marketing Week, there were just three TV channels, only one of which carried advertising. Newspapers were in black and white and thin, their paging restricted by the print unions: only the quality Sundays carried more than one section. Advertising agencies provided a full service to their clients, with in-house creative and media departments, and the media – like the car industry and the coal mines and many other industries before the Wapping dispute – were tightly controlled by the trade unions.
Within months of Marketing Week’s launch, printers at The Times and Sunday Times began an 11-month strike, taking the papers off the streets. This wasn’t the only industrial action that year. “The winter of discontent” brought Margaret Thatcher into power in May 1979 – helped by Saatchi & Saatchi and its famous “Labour Isn’t Working” poster, showing a long dole queue.
Marketing Week caught the wave of Thatcherism and the rise of the Saatchi brothers, who set out to woo the City and convince business of the power and value of advertising and branding. Rupert Murdoch would take over The Times and Sunday Times in 1981, laying the foundations for his union-busting dash to Wapping in 1986.
All this was grist to the mill of the fledgling Marketing Week, one of the first publications to highlight the importance of media.
Viewed from the digital-dominated perspective of 2018, when Google and Facebook hoover up the ad revenue (and give nothing back) and advertising is seen as sinister and dangerous, the 1980s could be seen as a golden age for advertising and marketing.
Directors such as Alan Parker, Hugh Hudson and Ridley Scott were cutting their teeth in the commercial break and the ads were widely regarded as better than the programmes.
There was a clear demarcation between the ads and the content (and no sponsored programming for fear of blurring the lines). Regulators and the Consumers’ Association lauded advertising for promoting competition and bringing down prices (though only after the industry beefed up the Advertising Standards Authority to make ads ‘legal, decent, honest and truthful’).
And the arrival of Channel 4 in 1982 and breakfast TV in 1983, and the breaking of print union power in 1986, unleashed a wave of new programmes, newspapers, magazines and media creativity, all funded or underpinned by advertising.
But this didn’t happen straight away.
Four months after Thatcher came to power in 1979, with The Times and The Sunday Times…