Taking off the rose-colored glasses of nostalgia, it's important to note which areas of advertising could learn from great work of the past, as well as the areas that have changed for the better. We spoke with Steve Aldridge, Wunderman Thompson UK's Chief Creative Officer, about the shift to empathy-driven work, the strengths of having creatives more involved with clients, and technology allowing for more participatory work.
Tell us about your role and how long you been working in the world of advertising.
I’m the Chief Creative Officer of Wunderman Thompson UK, which means I’m responsible for all our creative output from brand advertising, CRM & loyalty, digital experiences to experiential.
I love it, it’s the job I’ve always wanted. To be able to impact and create every touchpoint of a brand and to shape the whole customer brand experience is really exciting. Having such varied talent under one roof enables me to pull all the creative levers to make work that gets the country talking.
Are there some common staples or tropes that have developed in recent years within the industry? How do these compare to the ones of ten or even 20 years ago?
Today work is much more centred around empathy, whereas when I look back at great work from the past, it was often based on humour. Of course, great advertising needs to inform and, I believe, entertain when appropriate. Perhaps it’s reflective of modern agency life – there’s less laughter in the industry and less laughter in the work that we create.
What were some aspects or qualities about ads from the past that you feel modern advertising could benefit from adopting?
There’s a reason why ads like Hamlet Photo Booth, or the Carling Dambusters, get referenced. We remember what makes us laugh.
Was the work approached differently or have the methods remained the same?
It’s a much faster paced industry now. You just get less time from start to finish. In the past, there was more time to think, more time to craft. Technology means that every part of the process has been truncated and deadlines are much shorter.
There’s much greater access to creatives these days. Not just Creative Directors, but creative teams and designers are front of house now. In the past, creative types were rarely seen by clients and worked away behind closed doors. I think it’s a real strength that creatives at all levels interact, present and engage with clients today.
Today the brands we work with want to feel like they are part of the creative process. As a result, I believe you can get to much more interesting territories which is something that never really used to happen but makes all the difference in delivering effective and award-winning work.
How have ads evolved to keep up with technological and cultural advancements such as smartphones and the internet?
Advertising and communications generally has become a lot more participatory. It’s more involving and engaging, encouraging the viewer, reader or consumer to interact with the brand. Customer engagement is critical and social channels and smartphones can often make consumers an actual part of the campaign. It’s great to get instant feedback and involvement in our ideas. No-one wants to work in a vacuum.
Do you feel as though ageism is a problem in the advertising industry?
The truth is that agencies need to be balanced, made up from a diverse group, with different backgrounds, experiences and skill sets. Everyone has a role to play, and everyone should feel comfortable and happy in the workplace, whatever their age.
What advertisements do you remember seeing when you were younger that left an impression on you and why do you think they stayed with you?
I touched on a couple earlier. Photobooth is a sensational piece of acting, direction and writing. One of my favourite ads was the Ford Puma, Steve McQueen film. It was ahead of its time with cinematic special effects, replacing the Ford Mustang with the Ford Puma and with McQueen driving – memorable and entertaining. There are so many great ads to take inspiration from though, Sony, Heineken, John Lewis…
Looking to the future, where do you think the ad industry is heading?
For me, it’s about creating end to end brand experiences. Integrating technology from the outset. Today, with the tools available to us, we can make things in the agency that would have previously been impossible.
I’m a big believer that our best work is ahead of us. I don’t think it was better in the past. I don’t own and never will own, rose-tinted glasses!
Now is a really exciting time to be working in a creative agency and the best time to be making truly innovative and original work.
At Wunderman Thompson, we have the skills and tools to connect all customer experiences back to the brand, making work that truly lives in the culture, community and conversation.