Viral Twitter thread compares advertising then and now

We know the world of advertising has lost some of its magic and mystique. It's no longer one Old Fashioned after another like the world portrayed in Mad Men, nor continual lunches, dinners and industry events. But a Twitter thread has gone viral by suggesting that things are a lot worse than that. It seems that the industry's losing its creative spark – and the examples back that up.

The thread contains a series of 'then and now' comparisons that puts classic ads of the past alongside more recent, much less creative ads from the same brands. From Absolut Vodka to Apple, Porsche and Louis Vuitton, the examples seem to suggest that advertising creatives just aren't trying any more (for some examples of truly creative ads, see our pick of the best print ads of all time).

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John Long, a former executive creative director at advertising giant Ogilvy and now at LG's in-house ad agency, began sharing ad comparisons on Twitter way back in 2020, heading each tweet with the phrase, 'How it started / how it's going'. His posts became so inundated with comments that he's now put them together into one devastating thread that highlights an apparent drought of creative ideas in recent advertising. 

The difference in the level of the concepts and imagery used is stark, and particularly in the copy. Long juxtaposes past campaigns with sharp, witty copy with newer efforts that are just flat and dull. In the examples chosen, advertising appears to have become more literal. Instead of trying to capture the audience's imagination with a surprising concept or phrase, the ads simply show a product, with the copy often feeling like an afterthought. Even Apple comes in for criticism, with Long comparing its Muhammed Ali Think Different ad with a more recent ad for the MacBook Air that simply shows the laptop and its price.

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The thread has generated massive debate, with voices chiming in on both sides. Some agree with Long that advertising has become dull and have shared their own 'how it started / how it's going' comparisons. But others think the criticism is unfair, pointing out that some of the ads being compared were used in very different contexts – print magazine campaigns are compared against website and social media banners. However, Long argues that "everything a person sees from a brand makes the brand."

Nick Childs, chief creative officer at DIRT, replied: I think has shown us simply and perfectly how far we’ve fallen. How easily we gave up. It’s time to push back. More words, better pictures, richer craft."

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Long's point is an interesting one, and we wonder if there has been a move to more literal, and more prosaic, advertising. But we suspect budget is also a big factor. Many of the older campaigns that Long uses in his comparisons had big budgets, which, in the current post-Covid-19 inflationary economic situation of 2022, many brands probably aren't going to spend on a social media campaign or on copy for their online store.

The debate reminds us a little of the argument that logos are all becoming the same. While some argue the fault is a lack of creativity, changing trends also play a role. Many of the sharp ads that Long has shared were from print magazines, which don't have the same weight in advertising as they once did. Readers would spend longer looking at an ad in print than they do online. However, we do still see creative print ads today – as we recognised in our print ad category in our own Creative Bloq at 10 awards.

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Joe is a regular freelance journalist and editor at Creative Bloq. He writes news and features, updates buying guides and keeps track of the best equipment for creatives, from monitors to accessories and office supplies. A writer and translator, he also works as a project manager at London and Buenos Aires-based design and branding agency Hermana Creatives, where he manages a team of designers, photographers and video editors who specialise in producing photography, video content, graphic design and collaterals for the hospitality sector. He enjoys photography, particularly nature photography, wellness and he dances Argentine tango.

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