A brief history of advertising

Thought I’d share a deck I recently used to kick off Strategic Creative Development, a class I’m teaching this semester at Boston University’s College of Communication.

The premise behind the syllabus is simple: advertising is no longer about making ads. At least not all of the time.

Now it’s as much about digital experiences, gaming dynamics, mobile utility, Facebook apps, and creatively leveraging the interest graph as it is about crafting a message. Of course you know that.

Nevertheless, it was fun to create a journey just by looking at the automotive category. It telegraphs the change brilliantly.

In the beginning – presuming we all believe that Bernbach ignited advertising’s Big Bang – there was Volkswagen. Picture of the car, usually. Clever headline that juxtaposed with the image produced a “concept,” often telegraphing as much about the user as the car. “Do you have the right kind of wife for it?”

Twenty years later Amirati and Puris filled the awards annuals with iconic work for BMW. Picture of the car, usually. Clever headline that juxtaposed with the image produced a “concept,”  often telegraphing as much about the user as the car. “You’re judged by performance. Why drive a car that lives by a lesser code?”

No much changed in 20 years. Art and copy and bought attention.

But fast-forward 16 years and all hell breaks loose. BMW films in in 2001. The first big campaign to acknowledge consumer’s use of the web, the idea that advertising could actually be sought out, and that “commercials” need not be limited to 30 seconds. Mini-Cooper in 2002, a forerunner of imitators to come, so to speak, as a CB&B makes a brand social before there’s Facebook or Twitter to help it along.

A few years later we see Art of the Heist, and some of the very first trans-media story-telling. And finally the Ford Fiesta Movement, crowdsourced content that offered both insights about the customer and content to populate the web.
The evolution?

    • VW and BMW: ads that buy our attention
    • BMW Films: ads that we seek out and find online
    • Mini-Cooper: ads that leverage community and membership
    • Audi A3: ads that invite our participation and let us play along
    • Ford Fiesta: ads that hand the brand and the content over to us


#BUSCD students will get to work on digital platforms, apps and experiences to introduce the VW Bulli

I used some non-automotive examples to demonstrate the dramatic change,too, including a comparison of the infamous Mr. Whipple with the Charmin’s most recent effort: the Sit or Squat iPhone app, a crowdsourced utility helping us locate clean, accessible public restrooms when we’re on the go. We’ve come a long way, baby.

Take a look at the deck if you’re so inclined. It includes some discussion guide and questions that might help anyone who teaches advertising and social media. It offers some thoughts and suggestions for aspiring industry employees to think about. And it has a few nice little sound bites borrowed from the like of Clay Shirky and Contagious.

Plus it includes a fun assignment at the end. The re-launch of the VW microbus, coming again as the Bulli in 2014.

If you’re a student, feel free to download. If you’re a teacher, take whatever you want to and use it for yourself and your students. Got thoughts to share? Leave them below.  And as always, thanks for reading.

(Special thanks to CP&B for sharing all its Mini Cooper work.)

jkretch moderator

I can't get over slide 4. Is that seriously you or did you have someone photoshop that fro on your head?


Damn, gotta get you an updated Livefyre logo for slide 64. Deck looks great though. Undergrad or grad course? I know @artofplanning would approve.


@jasonfalls Hey man, I got your LinkedIn message. I'll respond later today, been a busy week so far