We Still Aren't Over London's 'Golden Age'?

Lately I've found many an interesting post about the industry in London, just over two years after The Saturn Return Project touched down to dig into the same subject. 

This article, "Time to get over advertising's 'Golden Age'" by Arif Haq in Contagious, is one of them. Haq ponders the gap between the great work being produced in the British market (yes, there is indeed some great work still being made) and weak work, with very little being recognized in between.

Since Saturn launched, the conversation around industry change has shifted away from the media (i.e. "digital media" or "social media") that made the initial splash, toward the technology, which is what continues to shift and morph at a rate the industry cannot (and never will be able to) keep pace with. 

"This mindset of the ‘golden age’ of British advertising – when clients weren’t allowed on the creative floor (let alone ask for a more than one creative response to choose from) is misguided," Haq writes. "It’s a rose-tinted vision that ignores the fact that we’re currently in the grip of the greatest period of technological disruption since television was invented. We should we cut ourselves some slack."
It's true. It is a rose-tinted vision and it is entirely rearview mirror-facing (as I discussed here). We need to stop looking back, stop comparing, stop longing for the relative 'ease' of the Mad Men era and face the realities of today. Be present, look forward and embrace the incredible era that we are living and working in now; it's possibilities and opportunities for not only brands, but for individuals as well.

The idea and argument (which I fear far too many are hanging on to out of confusion, desperation or stubborn unwillingness to accept change) that the industry needs a chance to catch up (comparing itself to the 40 years it took to master television) doesn't work, however. Not in today's world. Waiting to catch up means missing the boat. We can acknowledge where we are at, and award and applaud appropriately, as Haq says, but we cannot wait until we get it, or the sand and dust settle and the vision becomes clear.  Because that won't ever happen. This is, as they say, the new normal. Adapt, change, learn and grow or... well... find a new job.
"The complexity of the modern communications task means that it takes more planning smarts and creative skill to produce a successful campaign today than it did before the invention of the internet, social media and mobile phones," Haq says. 
He encourages us as an industry to recognize this disparity and recognize the best of today's work with a different lens.

Interesting that we are having the same conversations, with a slightly different twist, two years later.

Looking in London's Rearview Mirror.

Does a death grip on the success of the past hinder the potential of the future? When it comes to the advertising industry it London, it seems to be so.

I had conversations with the creative leadership at Lean Mean Fighting Machine, RKCR Y&R, glue Isobar, St. Luke’s and Dare, and while each had individual, original insights to share about the market in London, all hit upon a shared theme: London is holding on to the prowess of the past and it is hindering the market’s progression into the present and future.

London is a mature advertising market. It’s been there and done that brilliantly when it comes to traditional media. And that’s exactly the problem; at times, it feels like everything in television, in print, posters or radio has already been done, and there is no room for innovation. Until the digital space came along.

“I’m so invigorated and so excited by the new world of digital,” former Executive Creative Director of RKCR Y&R Damon Collins told me. “It’s fantastic because technology is evolving and people are evolving with it, which means that there’s always something new that you can potentially do.  The technology is helping change people’s habits and there are so many amazing, fantastic, groundbreaking things that you can do with interactivity and digital. We’re all learning and you can see real-time results, which is brilliant.”

It’s the “we’re all learning” piece that makes the industry a bit nervous, and is holding London back from embracing a quicker shift into the new landscape. London had the market cornered on traditional media – especially television – in the eighties and into the nineties. Think BBH. With success comes international recognition. With international recognition comes pride and confidence.

By contrast, with uncertainty comes procrastination and in some instances, complacent reluctance.

“Procrastination is the killer of all original ideas,” glue Isobar’s Executive Creative Director Seb Royce explained. There are scads of brilliant creative people in London, Royce said, but with a spotlight on digital, everyone freezes. It seems more is at stake in the unknown, agencies become afraid of making the wrong move and the cog moves too slowly. “The industry in London is nervous about change,” Royce said, “but change needs to happen. You can take baby steps, as long as you’re taking them forward.”

But it’s not only uncertainty and hesitation.

“It’s economics again,” Dare Managing Director Toby Horry said. “In the eighties and nineties, the UK had a massive, vibrant economy, and there was money to make, to put into big TV campaigns.” That’s no longer the case.

Take agency Lean Mean Fighting Machine, for instance. In 2008, the pure play digital agency who founded their work on a niche in banner advertising returned home from Cannes as Interactive Agency of the Year. And then the economy tanked.

When money dries up, clients become very risk averse. They stick to the tried, true and past-proven, and marketing and media plans mimic years prior. Fresh ideas are held “for next year’s budget.” And innovation stagnates.

London’s competitive agency marketplace adds to client confusion. There are too many agencies telling clients they can do the same thing. As the industry simplifies in this new landscape, the work will be better integrated, but at the moment agencies are not fulfilling the potential that’s there and clients are not getting the best that they could, according to Royce.

How to fix that? “We’ve got to start having fun again,” Royce said. Fear not the spotlight of “digital” as a buzzword and instead, step fully into a realm of new possibility. 

Sunday Morning at Old Spitalfield's.

If you like treasure hunts, then spend your Sunday morning at London's Old Spitalfield's Market. 

Located in East London, not too far from Brick Lane, the Market is open each day of the week with a different highlight. Thursday is the Antique Market, Friday is the Fashion Market, and those are certainly fun if you are looking to specifically find fashion or antique gems, but the weekend markets, well, those are my favorites. And Sunday is the biggest and baddest of them all, which also means big crowds, so plan accordingly (read: go early).

Walking into the market, the first thing you notice is the massive size of the old Victorian market hall. There are rows upon rows of vendors, in multiple rooms, surrounded by restaurants and retail stores. Overwhelming? Perhaps. But I was more mesmerized than overwhelmed and I eagerly jumped in to peruse the goods.

In one room, young fashion designers line up in stalls to show their fabrics, fashions and new looks from accessories to clothing, jackets and shoes. Fashion Street is not too far from Spitalfield's, in fact, just a few blocks down the road, so the fashion industry has a decided presence at the Market. There were some very innovative pieces in the mix, and it's always fun to support aspiring talent in any art genre when you appreciate their work. Mixed in and among the fresh work of the designers are stalls of cute, inexpensive clothing for women; shirts and blouses, dresses and more.

There's lots of something old with all the something new, too, as most of Spitalfield's main hall is lined with row upon row of vintage wares, from records and music, to jewelry, trinkets and treasures, to books, shoes leather bags and purses, furniture and household goods, and old vintage fur coats.

I know I'm not supposed to like fur coats, but these vintage beauties were tempting, soft, worn and yet still in gorgeous shape. Don't worry, PETA, I did not buy one. But I wanted to.
Essentially you name it, you can dig through and find it. An old typewriter? Yes. A tea set? Yes. An antique platter to add to your blue plate collection. Likely yes.

I did not get into the mix of the food surrounding the Market, but from what my nose could tell, and what I have read since, the restaurants and food vendors (there were organic baked goods, wines and more) are among London's finest. From gourmet pies and mash, to gourmet burgers, Mexican food, French cuisine and cheeses, to a piping hot cup of coffee, the Market's got it all.

However, Poppie's Fish and Chips is just across the street for a traditional taste of London, and Brick Lane is less than five minutes away if you wanted to pop over for some of the city's best curries.

Old Spitalfield's Market is just a five minute walk from the Liverpool Tube Station and is open on Sundays from 9 am- 5 pm. Check their Facebook page for news and updates each day but do yourself a favor on a visit to London and explore the treasure trove that is this Market.

Borough Market on a Saturday Morning.

There is no shortage of weekend markets in London and tempting the taste buds at an open food market is, in my opinion, a perfect way to start a Saturday morning.

But with the Borough Market in Southwark, you don't need to wait until Saturday. If your schedule permits, the Market is ready to get your mouth watering on Thursday and Friday afternoons, as well. Some retailers in and around the Market are even open earlier in the week.

Being that I spent my days with some of London's best agencies, I did wait until Saturday to check it out. I boarded the Tube and rode it to London Bridge; another perk of a visit to Borough Market being that you can combine it with many other tourists attractions in the vicinity, from the London Bridge to the Tower Bridge, and everything in between.

Crossing over Southwark Street and to the left of the beautiful Southwark Cathedral, I dropped down into the madness under the Viaduct.

And make no mistake: the market is madness. But a beautiful mess of madness it is.

My first order of business was breakfast. I had to select a snack to prevent myself from purchasing everything I laid eyes on in a fit of early a.m. hunger. With endless selections of fresh produce, seafood and meats and soft buttery cheeses, I was bound to get in trouble. Around me vendors were doling out taste tests of piping hot, spicy paella and mulled wine and cider, and the smell of crispy fried fish 'n' chips wafted through the air, making my stomach growl.

But it was morning time, giving my brain a battle between a later day indulgence like paella, fish 'n' chips or a toasty duck sandwich, and something that was a little more typical for the time of day. Earlier in the week I had passed by a pastry store on Primrose Hill and the memory of the soft croissants denied taunted my memory. Borough presented my solution just a short distance into the Market with an almond chocolate croissant, decidedly my favorite kind from my young days studying in Paris.

Even being my favorite, it was no easy decision with brownies the size of bricks and other warm freshly baked delights in the mix.

But I stuck to my decision and savored every sweet bite. With my hunger in check, I explored the rest of the Market.

As with most any food market, Borough would be a great place to get one's weekly produce and local, fresh goods. If were a resident and less a nomadic fast-moving target, I would have taken some of the goods home. Instead I indulged with my other senses, taking in the sights and smells, and when offered, accepting the occasional taste.

Borough Market has been around in some form or fashion since the 13th century, and has since grown into a fashionable and popular destination. It has also been featured in film and on TV to add to its notoriety. Thus the madness.

Various other markets around town were suggested to me by some of the ad industry professionals I spoke with throughout the week, but be it as it may, time only permitted a visit to Borough.

What is your favorite market in London? Or what is your favorite city to explore weekend food and treasures markets? Chime in here.