You know, I started in the advertising business as a copywriter in 1998 – that was my first job fresh out of college.
I graduated right smack in the middle of the Asian Financial Crisis and jobs were few and far in between. Out of sheer persistence and a hefty dose of luck, I landed a job as a copywriter for a small independent advertising agency.
I remember having to work without a computer, perhaps it was deemed unnecessary for me although I was the only writer in the agency at that time. I wrote copy by hand on A4 pieces of paper, and once approved, personally keyed directly into the layout on the designers’ gleaming Macs. Yeah, thug life.
This was a time before spell check and autocorrect, which meant I carried around an Oxford dictionary and thesaurus like how one would carry a smart phone now.
Research was with whatever printed journals and publications I could get my hands on. Doing some ‘internet’ research meant I had to wait for an open Mac, which usually happens when the designers were out for lunch.
There was no Google – actually there was but it was pretty crappy then. Yahoo! and Alta Vista were all the rage. Files were transferred using 1.44MB floppy disks, I know, cutting-edge shit. Purchasing stock images meant browsing a printed catalogue, placing the order via fax and someone would physically deliver the hi-res image on a disk a day or two later.
I could go on, but you get the gist, right?
The business of advertising back then was very analog, time-consuming and painstaking. The studio – where we creatives work – was a wonderous world where a lot of effort would go into creating a piece of marketing communication. It was hard, often manual, brain-crunching work – yet very fulfilling.
Then technology happened. Now, just one person can ideate, conceptualise, write, design and disseminate a piece of communication. What took weeks with a team of 5 back then can probably be done in hours today – we’ll leave the quality out of the equation for today yeah.
The entire process has been condensed and simplified – with apps, websites and software. But has it become simple for a person to multitask and create a well-crafted piece of marketing communication? Not by a long shot.
The overload in technology has resulted in overload of communication channels, which has resulted in overloading marketing plans with strategies to cover the constantly evolving and growing list of media must-haves.
It used to be just a website and Facebook page. Now, a marketer must think about separate strategies for Instagram, TikTok, Linked-In, Pinterest, YouTube Channel and every other social media trend to reach a fickle, devoid-of-attention and triggered audience.
And a lot of so-called digital agencies are churning out the same garbage churned for one channel and ramming them down disinterested audiences across other channels, including social media. All this is being done with blatant disregard for suitability of the media for the brand or business, or at the very least proper versioning and tweaking of the message.
Just content after mindless content generated for the sake of adhering to the marketing calendar. It has truly become a cesspool of words, images and videos that hardly means anything nor compels any kind of response.
Look, I for one am overwhelmed as well with the volatility, dynamics and continuous mutation of the marketing communication landscape. And there’s no sign of stopping really with AI and VR set to hit the marketing mainstream next.
But having been in the industry for over 2 decades and experienced its progression, I can tell you that the fundamentals are still the same. Strategies may differ and tactics will need to be upgraded to the times, but essentially its all about compelling content that generates leads and thereafter converts to a purchase.
Essentially, it’s about the idea and the objective first, and then take advantage of the type of media that can generate the most results. It’s not just about getting likes or comments or shares – if it doesn’t convert, its just more marketing Ringgit down the loo.
Marketing work during my rookie years was a multi-step, multi-person process, all thoughtfully crafted to the end objective of eliciting response. That seems to still be the idea these days, but technology – be it in terms of marketing tools or the media itself – has not made anything simpler.
So take a step back and look at the big picture as you ideate and strategise. The tech is just to enable, and is not the idea itself.