Back to the 1970s? There were some compensations…

“Why is nothing working in broken Britain?” asked the Sunday Times’ News Review at the weekend, rehearsing a litany of collapsed customer services (yes, it’s you airlines), rising prices, threatened nationwide strikes, NHS backlogs and much else in what it called a “cycle of disfunction.”


Others have noted we seem to be heading back to the 1970s when, in the last knockings of a tired Labour government, the country at times seemed ungovernable. That’s what rampant inflation does. And not just in the UK of course, the US is looking much the same although its economy is historically much more resilient.

It’s pretty easy to predict that the next IPA Bellwether Report will report slashing ad budgets across the board, maybe even digital.

Companies might be excused for wondering what’s going to hit them next after Covid-19 (the effects are still with us, especially in China which had become the workshop of the world) and then the war in Ukraine where economic disruption seems to be hitting Ukraine’s Western allies rather harder than energy-rich Russia.

Actually the gruesome 1970s were a vintage period for British advertising when a wave of creative agencies headed by Collett Dickenson Pearce, Boase Massimi Pollitt seemed to rewrite the rule book on what advertising could do, following in the footsteps of Doyle Dane Bernbach and others in the US. Then came Saatchi & Saatchi which combined creative chops with a desire for world domination. They got away with it for a while.

It’s hard to discern any such wave on today’s horizon or the economic recovery that followed under Margaret Thatcher (at fearsome cost to much of the UK’s traditional fabric.)

But hard economic times do, somehow, seem to stimulate creativity and not just in the sense of doing nice ads. The challenge. looks rather harder this time. The UK and US are both riven by inequality and no-one seems willing or able to do much about it. Financial services (which don’t seem to benefit anyone other than its practitioners) and big tech have all the money and the political clout that goes with it. There are even fears that some otherwise rational people are giving up on democracy.

We’ll probably muddle through somehow (as usual.) But it there was ever a time for more real creativity, in politics as well as business, it’s now.

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.

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