Advertising Cultures: Gender, Commerce, Creativity


Sean Nixon

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    Culture, Representation and Identities is dedicated to a particular understanding of ‘cultural studies’ as an inherently interdisciplinary project critically concerned with the analysis of meaning. The series focuses attention on the importance of the contemporary ‘cultural turn’ in forging a radical re-think of the centrality of ‘the cultural’ and the articulation between the material and the symbolic in social analysis. One aspect of this shift is the expansion of ‘culture’ to a much wider, more inclusive range of institutions and practices, including those conventionally termed ‘economic’ and ‘political’.

    Books in the series:

    Representing Black Britain

    Black and Asian Images on Television

    Sarita Malik

    Cultural Economy

    Cultural Analysis and Commercial Life

    Edited by Paul du Gay and Michael Pryke


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    Academic researchers often depend upon the good grace of others in pursuing their research and I am grateful to the advertising people who generously put time aside in their busy schedules to see me and who shared their experience of working in advertising with me. While I cannot thank them by name because of the importance of anonymising their testimonies, they know who they are and I hope they feel that I have done justice to their accounts. Ann Murray Chatterton at the IPA can be thanked by name and was especially generous with her time. The AHRB provided me with support to enable me to complete the book and I thank them for this. I am also grateful to the University of Essex for continuing to believe in the value of academic research and for supporting this through its system of research leave and the Research Promotion Fund.

    Versions of chapters of the book were presented at numerous conferences and seminars and I am particularly grateful to audiences at the Department of Sociology and Cultural Studies, University of Birmingham, the MA in History of Design group at the Royal College of Art, the Department of Sociology, London School of Economics, the Centre for Metropolitan History, University of East London, and The Social History Society Annual Conference in York.

    Advertising Cultures continues a journey I began with my first book, Hard Looks, and many people have accompanied me along the way and helped to share and give direction to my thinking and to the contours of the book. Friends and colleagues in particular have provided wise counsel and intellectual support during the writing of this book and I am especially grateful to Chris Breward, Ben Crewe, Paul du Gay, Stuart Hall, Angela McRobbie, Frank Mort, Keith Negus, Mike Roper and Bill Schwarz. David Rose provided helpful guidance on occupational classifications and self-completion questionnaires. Frank Mort and Angela McRobbie took on the task of reading the final manuscript and both deserve a special mention for their acuity and intellectual generosity and support.

    Julia Hall and Jamilah Ahmed at Sage have both been excellent publishers to work with. My parents, Carole and John Nixon have been an important source of continuing support and I remain immensely grateful for that. A final special thank you is due to Claire Nixon. Her wisdom, humour and love have provided the backdrop for this book. It is dedicated to her.

  • Endnotes

    1 The book is based upon interviews with 26 male and 6 female art directors and copywriters working for London-based advertising agencies. The interviews were conducted in the summer and autumn of 1997.

    2 The most celebrated ennoblements were those of the three former Saatchi & Saatchi people, Maurice Saatchi, Tim Bell and Martin Sorrell, all of who were knighted by the Conservative government 1992–7. The Guardian media page, the Financial Times ‘Creative Business’ section and the Independent's ‘Let's do Lunch’ feature have provided space for advertising practitioners views. Advertising people have also appeared on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Start the Week’ programme.

    3 There are some strong historical precursors to the contemporary moves to celebrate the ‘creativity’ of British advertising. See, for example, Saxon-Mills’ comments on the ‘aesthetic achievements’ of British advertising and the raising of its ‘creative standards’ in his biography of Sir William Crawford (Mills, 1954).

    4 Some of these adverts are discussed in Nixon, 1996 and Mort, 1996. The most high profile was BBH's press and television work for Levi's 501 jeans that began in 1985.

    5 There is an extensive sociological, social historical and cultural studies literature on interview methods and forms of qualitative research upon which I have drawn. See, in particular, Bourdieu, 1996; Clifford, 1988; Hollands, 1985; Atkinson, 1990 and Roper, 1994.

    1 Lash and Urry also draw attention to the importance of information and communication structures in providing resources for reflexivity, see Lash and Urry 1994, Chapter 3.

    2 Lash and Urry cite three ideal type forms of ‘reflexive accumulation’ (1994: 63).

    1 See Appendix 1 for typical structure of a full-service agency. The jobs of art director and copywriter made up 8.9 per cent and 5.7 per cent of agency staff in IPA member agencies (IPA Census, 2000:7). This compared with 23.7 per cent in account handling, 14.5 per cent in media buying/planning, 4.8 per cent in account planning and research, 9.2 per cent in finance, 7.8 per cent secretarial (ibid).

    2 Advertising expenditure recovered through the late 1990s and stood at 1.94 per cent of GDP in 1999 (IPA, 2000).

    3 In the IPA census of 1998 there were 20 large agencies, 44 medium agencies and 142 small agencies. The IPA includes 206 of the 1872 or so advertising agencies in Britain. All the top thirty agencies are members and 75 per cent of the top 100. IPA members account for over 80 per cent of advertising placed in the UK (IPA, 2000). 75 per cent of agency staff are employed in London, smaller concentrations in Manchester, Leeds, Birmingham, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Newcastle and Belfast (ibid: 11).

    4 Terrestrial television hours grew from 471 in 1983 to 671 in 1995 in a typical week (Scase and Davis, 2000: 50).

    5 The Media Partnership bought media for WPP's two UK agencies, O&M and J. Walter Thompson, as well as for the top ten agencies AMVBBDO and BMP DDB.

    6 BBH employed 425 people and had billings of £238M in 1999. It was ranked at 18 in the top 100 agencies by billing. While it remained a private company, BBH sold a 49 per cent share of the business to the American giant Leo Burnett in 1997 in order to gain access to their global media buying resources.

    7 While anecdotal evidence suggested that in the late 1980s commission payments accounted for 86 per cent of most agencies gross income, this had fallen to 46 per cent by 1996 (Campaign, 13/8/93: 22–3).

    8 HHCL had 202 staff and £180M billings in 1999. It was ranked number 19 in the top 100 agencies based on billings. It was bought by Chime Communications, a group linked to WPP Group in 1997.

    9 ‘Romping’ was an acronym for ‘radical office mobility piloting!’

    1 Mike Featherstone has done most to take up Bourdieu's arguments on the ‘new occupations’. However, Featherstone's work has explored the social make-up of these intermediary occupations in rather abstract, general terms and not generated any new evidence about their social make-up. Empirical sociologists have shown little specific interest in these occupations and most of the debate concerning changing occupational divisions of labour and class recomposition has focused on the so-called ‘service class’. See Goldthorpe, 1980; Marshall et al, 1988; Savage et al, 1992. There is a richer, more nuanced historical literature on the lower-middle classes. See especially, Crossick & Haupt, 1995 and Bailey, 1999.

    2 See, for example, Marshall et al, 1988 and Abercrombie and Warde, 1992.

    3 With the assistance of the IPA, I collected data on the social backgrounds of practitioners working for IPA agencies through a self-completion questionnaire. Data was drawn from a total of 102 practitioners. This included the 32 practitioners whom I interviewed. The class categories used here are derived from and broadly follow the schema of The National Statistics Socio-economic Classi-fication (NS-SEC) Interim version. I use the term middle class to include those higher managerial and professional occupations that fall within category 1; lower middle class to include those occupations within categories 2–4; and working class those occupations within categories 5–7 (Martin and Deacon, 1997: 33).

    4 Savage et al also cite figures for the manual working class that suggest that 72 per cent of unskilled manual workers had fathers who were manual workers (Savage et al, 1992: 134). The most well known sociological study of social mobility and class divisions in Britain is the Oxford mobility study led by John Goldthorpe (1980). Goldthorpe's work privileges the analysis of what he calls the ‘service class’ – by which he means professional, administrative and managerial positions. Marshall et al, drawing on Goldthorpe's work, suggest that there has been considerable upward mobility into these positions and that the ‘service class’ has been recruited from throughout the social structure (Marshall et al, 1988: 101).

    5 Fielding argues that the petit bourgeoisie have always been a highly diverse group in terms of their social mix with regard to origins (Fielding, 1995). One would perhaps expect this of intermediary social groupings. See also Crossick and Haupt, 1995.

    6 The reputation persists today. As Caroline Marshall noted, ‘Once upon a time, a certain type of man got the top job at JWT, London. Requirements included an education at public school followed by the Guards, a long, long career exclusively at JWT and at least two surnames’ (Campaign, 2/2/01: 12).

    7 These figures are based on a sample of 55 profiles taken from the trade press between 1993–8.

    8 These figures are derived from a sample of 40 media planners/buyers collected by the IPA. I am grateful to Ann Murray Chatterton for sharing this information with me.

    9 The top four universities from which account handlers currently come are Oxford, Bristol, Edinburgh, and York (Ann Murray Chatterton, per comm.).

    10 On the place of qualifying associations in the formation of professions see Millerson, 1964. On professionalism see Johnstone, 1982 and 1989.

    11 The D&AD's remit was as follows: ‘setting and maintaining standards of creative excellence; communicating the value of creative excellence to the business community; educating and inspiring the next creative generation’ (D&AD Annual, 1996: 1).

    1 For a discussion of the adverts see Campaign, 24/3/95: 11 and Independent on Sunday, 3/9/95: 10.

    2 For a very different approach to questions of creativity developed within art theory and theories of the avant-garde, see, Krauss, 1985; Crow, 1996.

    3 On the relationship between art and advertising see Bogart, 1995; Tozer, 1997.

    4 One of the creative directors I interviewed, Steve Buckland, confessed to a similar reverence for CDP's press advertising. He recalled, ‘They [CDP] started to produce broadsheet page advertising for the Army which wanted to have an intelligent conversation with me. They were really very well written. The intelligence that was expressed in that advert really impressed me.’

    1 Advertising is clearly not unique among media industries in being unrepresentative of the wider population in terms of its ethnic and ‘racial’ mix. McRobbie (2002a: 112) quotes the BFI Television Industry Tracking Study that showed that 94 per cent of new entrants to television were white.

    2 The IPA published two long reports on the position of women in advertising in 1990 and 2000 (Baxter, 1990; Klein, 2000). The issue remains a high priority for the Institute, per comm. Ann Murray Chatterton, IPA Director of Training and Development. D&AD had long been attacked for the lack of women jurors for the D&AD awards (see, inter alia, Campaign, 15/12/95: 28; 31/5/96: 24). The D&AD not only collaborated with the IPA on its 2000 report, but Larry Barker, the D&AD's President in 2000 also signalled the lack of women in creatives jobs as a major issue for his presidency (Campaign, 4/2/00: 14).

    3 Baxter makes this point explicitly in Baxter, 1990: 11.

    4 It was not entirely clear that this fear was well founded. It appeared that what clients often wanted from agencies was access to ‘creativity’ in its untamed form. See Campaign 14/11/97: 38–9.

    5 Mort makes a similar point in discussing the debate about gender bias in the early 1990s in advertising (Mort, 1996: 114).

    6 On Kaye see, Campaign, 3/2/95: 5; 14/4/95: 12; 30/6/95: 24; 26/5/95: 24–6. This cultural script has a long pedigree. Lears quotes US admen in the 1940s that liked, as he puts it, to be seen as free spirits, ‘a little bit crazy’ (Lears, 1994:320).

    7 For profiles of Hegart and Abbott see, inter alia, Independent, 29/9/97: 5; 8/9/ 97: 10.

    8 Perhaps the most striking public persona was that of Kiki Kendrick, a successful art director. She was well known for her flamboyment dress sense, which included wearing an eye patch for a period for purely stylistic effect and for her hedonistic lifestyle. She also appeared on the television programme ‘Blind Date’ wearing a wedding dress (see Campaign, 18/8/95: 11; 27/10/95: 10; 3/11/95: 13).

    9 This was the mean figure from 1995–9 derived from the UCAS website.

    10 The key source here was John Gray's bestseller Women are from Venus and Men are from Mars.

    11 The key text was Fletcher's 1990 study.

    1 In the mid-1990s, the sporting of goatee beards became widespread among young advertising creatives. Campaign devoted its back page to this phenomenon in April 1996. (See Campaign, 12/4/96.)

    2 Trevor Robinson, the freelance commercials director, and a contemporary of the group of men I interviewed, also revealed a strong interest in the way he looked. As he put it, ‘I enjoy dressing up. I can afford it now and I don't see why I shouldn't enjoy it. Its not vain or sad – that's a really English attitude, to be slightly embarrassed about looking good and to think it is cool to walk around in smelly old jeans (Creative Review, August 1996: 30).

    3 On sportswear see ‘Natural high, winter sportswear goes up in the world’, Arena Oct 1997: 198; ‘Das Boot’, on Napajiri's polar inspired performance clothes’, Arena Oct 1997: 204; ‘Fleeced’, May 1997: 170–1, on the way polar fleeces have revolutionised sportswear.

    4 Such behaviour is clearly not new. For a fascinating exchange of correspondence from 1982 between the Creative Circle and The Light Fantastic Gallery see History of Advertising Trust Creative Circle Box. The circle's meeting left the gallery's carpet with extensive cigarette burns and heavy staining. As one of the members of the creative circle, David Holmes, was forced to admit, ‘I've seen the damage and it is a bloody mess’.

    5 It was not only alcohol that was heavily consumed. Two of the practitioners I interviewed revealed that illegal drugs were readily available within the agency.

    6 The practitioners I interviewed hailed from a wide range of provincial towns and cities, such as Norwich, Warrington, Loughton, Ware and Manchester. Only one of them came from metropolitan London (Hampstead).

    Appendix 1

    Job Functions in a Typical Full-service Advertising Agency


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