The Weekend Australian - Review - - Contents - Deirdre Macken macken.deirdre@

It was a bit of a sur­prise to feel sad at the news mem­o­rable ads have disappeared from our screens. In par­tic­u­lar, a sur­vey from TH?NK Global found six out of 10 peo­ple couldn’t re­mem­ber any ads they felt pos­i­tive about and two-thirds couldn’t re­mem­ber one ad they dis­liked.

It was fun be­ing a couch critic. Whether we loathed com­mer­cials (most of the time) or loved them (too in­fre­quently), we could unite around the images of our­selves that were of­fered in the ser­vice of a prod­uct.

And, once upon a time, ad­ver­tis­ers did try to wrap their brands around our iden­ti­ties. Think of the way air­lines, cars, su­per­mar­kets, banks, po­lit­i­cal par­ties and beers tagged our stereo­types and tugged at our emo­tions. You only have to think of beer com­mer­cials to ap­pre­ci­ate how much the mem­o­rable ad has disappeared.

We were once masters of the beer ad. If you ig­nore the art deco posters plas­tered to ho­tels in the early 20th cen­tury, the great beer pe­riod be­gan in 1980 when Tooheys launched the How Do You Feel cam­paign, and it con­tin­ued solidly un­til 2005 when Carl­ton Draught launched its Big Ad. In be­tween there were scores of mem­o­rable and mostly funny beer ads, in­clud­ing my favourite for Tooheys when the guy tries to pass off his pug as a guide dog to get into a hotel — “what did they give me?”

But 2005 was a long time ago. The per­son who was born the last time a great beer ad ap­peared is sneak­ing beers into a teenage party this week­end. It’s a long time be­tween drinks and an even longer time be­tween laughs.

For a gen­er­a­tion, the beer ad fol­lowed our moods, sports ob­ses­sions, sex­ual mores, at­ti­tudes, jobs and, most ob­vi­ously, our ideas of mate­ship. But they also nailed the ways we make our­selves laugh and, when they did that right — and they mostly did — we felt a sense of be­long­ing that elim­i­nated bound­aries of gen­der, class and ge­og­ra­phy.

The ad­ver­tis­ing in­dus­try has lamented the pass­ing of the mem­o­rable com­mer­cial (and the big bud­gets that ac­com­pa­nied them). It has blamed — in rough order — lack of com­pe­ti­tion be­tween big play­ers; lack of tal­ent in the in­dus­try; lack of courage among brand man­agers; too many sen­si­tiv­i­ties in so­ci­ety; and too much share­holder think­ing and not enough thinkers out­side the square. But the real cul­prit is more ob­vi­ous. You can’t have a big ad with­out big me­dia. A big ad needs mass me­dia with big au­di­ences for the big im­pact needed to re­pay the big money needed to make and broad­cast a big ad. Ergo, the Big Ad.

But lit­tle me­dia rules now. We have atom­ised across mul­ti­ple me­dia points. We are an au­di­ence of one, watch­ing our per­son­ally cu­rated con­tent on our par­tic­u­lar de­vice, on our own timetable. And, if ad­ver­tis­ers want to find us, they use data to send us anaemic ads, tai­lored to the au­di­ence of one. The ads that reach us are like those fly­ers you find in your mail­box soggy with snail bites. Use­ful, maybe, but for­get­table.

But it’s not just the au­di­ence that has atom­ised, so have ad­ver­tis­ers. Dis­re­gard­ing the banks and su­per­mar­kets, there are so many busi­nesses in ev­ery in­dus­try around the world pitch­ing for our at­ten­tion that none can af­ford a big sell. Think again of the beer mar­ket, it’s so frac­tured be­tween hun­dreds of craft beers, scores of im­ports and ever-di­min­ish­ing old brands, they’re lucky to af­ford la­bel de­sign­ers. Even the Amer­i­can Su­per Bowl, the hal­lowed ground for com­mer­cial creativ­ity, doesn’t have the im­pact its 100 mil­lion-plus au­di­ence would sug­gest, un­less a pop star makes a hash of the an­them. A 2014 study showed 80 per cent of Su­per Bowl ads don’t in­crease sales.

So there are no big mo­ments in ad­ver­tis­ing. It be­longs to com­mer­cial his­tory, per­sonal nos­tal­gia and a time when we could agree on our stereo­types. But in the same way old pub posters be­came col­lectable, I’m guess­ing some­one will make a YouTube mash-up of great beer ads. And lots of peo­ple will share it — on their own de­vices and me­dia sites — and won­der per­haps about a coun­try where ev­ery­one sat in front of a TV at the same time and had a laugh.

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