Was It Better Back In The Day?

When I speak to my advertising friends, not a day goes by without somebody complaining about how shit things are: worse briefs, worse clients, more process, more work for fewer ads, the general standard of ads heading down the toilet, more legals, tougher BACC (have you noticed how the BACC never gets laxer?), smaller budgets etc…

And the main backup to all of this is often a misty-eyed nostalgia for how things used to be.

We’ve all heard the stories: afternoons in the pub, all day with the racing channel on, no research, brilliant account men who sold your shit first time and got you an extra 50k to make it, limos round the block to take people ten yards up the road to a five-star lunch washed down with classed-growth claret. And, goddammit, the ads were better, too. Weren’t they?

I guess the question here is whether that is down to the aforementioned misty-eyed nostalgia, or were things actually better in every single way at some point in the past, and have just been getting worse ever since.

I’d say that it’s pretty difficult to compare the actual ads because context is everything. What may have been amazing in 1982 would seem pretty crap nowadays, but the ads were made for a different era and the best were probably great for their time. However, I think there are a lot of ads from at least ten years ago that would actually be better than today’s work (regular readers will know the ones I’m talking about, so I won’t stick them all up again, but suffice to say, we’d all love to have made Dunlop ‘Unexpected’, Volvo ‘Twister’, Blackcurrant Tango ‘St George’, VW ‘Protection’ and ‘Surprisingly Ordinary Prices’, half a dozen Levi’s ads including ‘Creek’ and ‘Drugstore’ and Blackstar Beer ‘Fake History’).

So I think that proves that the work was indeed better.

Which leaves the question of the day-to-day working conditions (by the way, this is obviously all relative; none of us is a janitor in a porn theatre or the guy at Scotland Yard who has to watch all the Gary Glitter vids. For more jobs that might make you put your own ‘shit day at work’ in perspective, have a look at this).

I can’t speak for anyone else in any other time frame, but in my experience (since 1996) the degree to which you enjoyed the days depended on a lot of things that weren’t era-specific. For example, when I left Y&R and started at AMV (1998), the days became far more enjoyable because the new agency had all the things a junior creative would love: one team per brief, ads got written one day and made the next, the CD suggesting Will Smith to front your campaign seemed entirely reasonable, the other teams were the best in the world, the bar was fun, brilliant accounts were flying through the door all the time, so were ‘Agency of the Year’ accolades, the best work in the world was coming out of the offices around you and people were really impressed when you told them where you worked.

Does that sound like where you work now? Any of you? In any agency in the world?

I’d be surprised.

Which leads me to believe there has been an overall drop in enjoyment as well as standards. Late-nineties AMV may have been one of the best places to work in the last twenty years, but other places, such as BBH, DDB (BMP) and Leagas Delaney of the same era weren’t far off. Maybe people are having just as much fun in all those places now, but like I said, I’d be surprised (I’m not saying the current employees are not enjoying themselves, but perhaps not as much as they would have done a decade ago).

So I guess that just leads me to conclude that things were better back in the day.

Is the encroaching malaise confined only to advertising, or is work in general becoming less fun across the board?

If so, can the old enjoyment still be found anywhere?