No Turning Back

22 06 2012

While it is often fun to speculate what tomorrow will bring (anyone remember The Jetsons?), it can be just as amusing to look over our shoulder to see how we have come. Earlier this week, my Dad turned 91. If he were able to go back to 1921, I am sure it would scare him, because we have so far in his lifetime.

Now let me set the stage: Dad is no technophobe (he adopted digital cameras back in the late-90s, long before most people did), was among the first to own a plasma TV, and loves his Kindle Fire today. But he has never embraced computers, does not know (or care) that I had to set up a Gmail account for him (in conjunction with his Kindle), and knows only that somehow, but virtue of magic or something, he has wireless internet throughout his apartment.

Some things are best left unexplained.

It’s not that he couldn’t learn to embrace computing technology; he simply chose not to, and probably because his job did not demand it. I, in comparison, have been using computers since 1974, but only because my Math courses required it (and am I ever thankful).

It’s hard to imagine a world without internet, but Dad certainly lived it

During Dad’s prime time, marketing efforts focused on what we now view as traditional outlets, meaning print (newspaper, magazine and catalogs), outdoor (primarily billboards), radio, and television. Yet even these latter two were “new” things that Dad’s cohort lived through, much like we are now living through the era of ubiquitous internet, mobile devices and social media.

I can hardly imagine gathering the family ’round the console radio to listen to the news, music or a melodrama, yet that is exactly what he and his family did. Announcers with schmaltzy voices would beseech listeners to lend an ear, and run to the nearest store to try the sponsor’s latest product.

Too bad the Scan/Seek button would not be invented for decades.

By the 1950s (after he and all his World War II buddies were busily procreating and buying homes), television entered the mainstream, and cars culture took over. By the time Dad and his two pals motored west on Route 66 in 1955, outdoor advertising began sprouting. Perhaps the most memorable ads of that time were the Burma Shave signs (which had been started in 1925, reached their acme in the 50s, and then quickly declined in the 60s).

Today someone might argue that reading so many little sequential signs could amount to distracted driving.

Television ads often seemed contrived (if you ever get a chance to watch uncut versions of the old I Love Lucy show, you’ll know what I mean). Viewers must have been passive little robots, incapable of critical thinking, or else marketers at least thought them dumb. We were not a rich family while I was growing up, and we did not acquire a color TV until the early-70s. We had to imagine that The Green Hornet was…well…green.

As Mashable depicts in its infographic of life without the internet, life has suddenly become far more complicated in the last 40 years (thank you, Al Gore, for whatever you did to make this happen). Just as we 70s citizens waxed nostalgic about the halcyon days of the 50s while watching Happy Days, so, to, do we recollect what life was like during the Nixon era. while simultaneously pondering all the things that today we take for granted.

As for Dad, he still gets the bulk of his marketing material fed to him the same way he did since the 50s. His cell phone is a simple 10-key, so he will never know the joys of checking in at Five Guys for lunch, receiving a text alert from Johnny Carinos about 2-for-1 drinks, getting a coupon sent to that email account, or interacting with myriad apps. He does well to interact with his Kindle Fire, and sticks to his Newsweek and Chicago Tribune, Weather app, and stock information (all stuff my brother and I set up for him). He gets his digital content seamlessly from Amazon, yet has no clue about the e-commerce behind the scenes (nor the technology) that made it happen.

But at the end of the day, marketing today is really not much different from when Dad was born. Sure, the methods are different, and we cannot begin to picture life without them, but it still boils down to one easy equation: Putting the right product in the right place, at the right time, and at the right price. How you tell that story is one thing, but the deliverables are still pretty much the same.

Anyone mind if I change the channel?

Dr “No Static At All” Gerlich


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