Career

Advertising’s hidden class system

By Patrick Collister | CEO

March 23, 2018 | 4 min read

The British are class obsessed. We’re fascinated by the divisions that separate us.

Everything we do sends out a signal to others about where we belong.

Eton, grammar school or the comp.

Inequality ladder

Polo, rugby or football.

Knightsbridge. Wandsworth or Tower Hamlets.

It’s even filtered down into advertising.

If you made “films” in a network ad agency, you were upper class. If you made prototypes, then you worked in a digital agency and you were middle class.

And if you were in direct marketing, then you made landfill and no-one spoke to you at awards shows.

The trade press used to reflect this: if the story was about an ad agency, it was on the front pages, if it was about a digital agency, it would be on pages four or five. And if it was about direct marketing, you’d get a paragraph tucked away near the obituaries.

Of course, the word ‘class’ is a synonym for ‘opportunity’. Ad agencies were places where you got the chance to shoot a commercial that people might quite like. Digital agencies were places where you got to design sites people found quite useful. Direct marketing agencies were the places where you did the stuff everybody despised – spam and junk mail and the like.

But history has a way of hiccuping.

Take Sardinia. It used to be that on the island, the oldest son inherited the best land. The youngest son got the crap acres, usually by the sea.

Then suddenly beaches in Sardinia were places the upper classes wanted to go, and the youngest sons became rich. They built the hotels and the marinas.

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Isn’t social mobility fun?

It’s the same in advertising – the plebs have suddenly become the aristos of the industry. Direct was transformed when digital showed up, and instead of being stuff that folds, direct is now anything with a click or a like, a share or a link: anything you can measure, however imprecisely.

Direct is the most interesting category of them all, and many of the people who worked in direct are now running ad agencies.

Emma de la Fosse has risen to become chief creative officer of Ogilvy in the UK.

Marcus Iles is a group creative director at Publicis. Wayne Pick is executive creative director at Colenso BBDO Auckland, one of the most garlanded agencies in the world.

I mention these three because they just happen to be jurors at the 2018 Caples Awards.

The Caples is a show run by creative people for creative people.

Only great work wins.

The 2017 Grand Prix was Clemenger BBDO’s ‘Meet Graham’ – which, of course, was the darling of Cannes Lions 2017.

Already the team behind it have seen their social status change.

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