I learned about advertising growing up on the biggest council-estate in Europe.
26,000 identical houses, each had 2 rooms downstairs, 2 rooms upstairs, and each had its own indoor bath and toilet, and each had running water.
100,000 people all from the east-end had been bombed out in the blitz, so this estate, however basic, was much better than what they had before.
Nearby was a smaller estate of prefabs, one of my mates lived in one of those.
Prefab was short for prefabricated-house, basically what we’d call flatpack today.
The houses weren’t built where they stood, the various parts were built in a factory somewhere else and assembled on site.
156,000 prefabs, mainly made in Canada, were shipped across to England.
They were small, two bedrooms and a living room, but quite cosy.
Being made in Canada, they had things we hadn’t seen before.
I remember going to my mate’s prefab and turning on the tap and hot water came out, and they had central heating which I’d never seen, and they had a built-in fridge.
I didn’t even know what a fridge was for, England was cold enough why would you need a special cupboard to make things colder?
But anyway, the little prefabs looked, if not exactly luxurious, certainly comfortable.
So that was where I grew up: an enormous estate of identical houses next to an estate of identical prefabs.
It was all very basic, but it was clean and tidy and everyone who’d been bombed out of the east-end seemed happy there.
And it was a good way to solve the need for housing, but for me there was one problem.
It was all so boring.
The people were lovely, but every house was exactly like every other house, every prefab was exactly like every other prefab.
Wherever I walked all over the estate, everything was identical.
When I walked to school, when I walked to the pub, when I rode on the bus.
Every house looked like every other house, every street looked like every other street.
It solved the housing problem, but it was repetitive and boring.
Which is exactly like the current state of advertising.
It solves the problem of filling space, but every ad is like every other ad, and it’s all so boring.
Just like the prefabs, the thinking is done somewhere else then assembled on site.
We don’t do fresh thinking for each problem, there isn’t time, we just copy each other.
We get some flatpack thinking from the strategy factory and just assemble it on site.
What sort of ad would you like?
You can have a ‘you-do-you’ ad, or a ‘find your (fill in the adjective)’ ad, you can have an ‘everybody’s-dancing’ ad, or a ‘bad rhyme’ ad, you can have a ‘happy families’ ad, or a ‘joy’ ad, or even a ‘no-one-understands-it-so-it-must-be-cool’ ad.
They all look the same and you can put any name on the end of any ad.
Just the way you can put any family in any identical council house or prefab.
It didn’t really matter because all those identical houses solved the housing problem.
But advertising is a different brief, so do identical ads solve the advertising problem?
If you’re paying several million pounds for an ad campaign, does it solve your problem if it looks identical to everything else?
If it’s just another ad that could have any name on the end of it?
Or just maybe we shouldn’t be doing advertising the way the council does houses, making everything identical because it’s a quick-fix.
Maybe when we’re paying several million pounds for something we want more than council-type thinking.
Something better than flatpack, prefab advertising.