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I went to Google Firestarters last week. I’m indebted to Neil for inviting me along. And it was definitely worth it. Do read Neil’s write-up, btw.

Having spent the past few years falling in and out of love with advertising, I realised on Monday night that it wasn’t just me. Lots of other people have, too.

I heard myself – and many of my peers – echoed in the three stories that advertising tells itself, and I shuddered (with shame, but also with a sense of ‘I TOLD YOU!’):

  • The enlightenment narrative: ‘The past was primitive, but now we are enlightened’
  • The golden age narrative: ‘The best years of the advertising industry were in the past’
  • The year zero narrative: ‘The world has changed and the old rules no longer apply’

And it’s not just in advertising. I feel like I hear these same stories across life in general. Politicians use these narratives a lot at the moment. I hear them in shops; I see them applied to topical news on Twitter. They are cultural. It’s not surprising, advertising is (occasionally) still about culture now.

We cannot escape the past, even though it has gone and it cannot be changed. We are not learning from it, making the same mistakes with new tools.

In the pub afterwards, we talked a lot about the things of the future and their relationship with the past – music, especially; how Spotify didn’t give you a sense of discovery that you’d get from blogs, or from the girl with the weird haircut and piercings down the local Our Price. Or the person hidden in the basement of almost every large HMV, never allowed to interact with the mainstay of customers but who, I’m positive, held the top spot for RPC sales (records per customer) every year.

I was thinking a lot about the future and nostalgia and the pretence that paradigm have shifted and eras long gone on the way to a workshop the next day. They have, of course. And, it will come as no surprise, they are alive and well – and we ignore them at our peril.

I’ve yet to read Paul’s book, The Anatomy of Humbug, which every attendee was given a copy of. It’s only because I’m two-thirds through The Everything Store, by Brad Stone. Of course, I will. He made it sound like a must-read – and if it’s half as good as his oration it’ll be excellent.

Once I’ve absorbed more of what Paul spoke about last Monday I’ll have more to say on his six theories. For now, I’m trying my best to prevent myself slipping into any of the narratives he described for I do believe they apply beyond advertising.

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