Volume 8 Number 3
March 12 - April 8 2012
Advertising is big business. In Australia, the industry generates annual revenues of around $12 billion and employs some 42,000 people in advertising and marketing-related industries, over 10,000 of whom work in Australia’s 900 or more advertising agencies.
Despite this, and the recent popularity of television series like The Gruen Transfer and Mad Men, little is known about the people who work in the industry, the jobs they do, the different departments they work in, and how the strategic and creative process is followed to produce the advertisements we see and like to critique every day.
And, according to Professor John Sinclair, Honorary Professorial Fellow in the School of Historical and Philosophical Studies at the University of Melbourne, even less is understood about more serious questions concerning, for example, the impact of globalisation, or exactly how Australian the Australian advertising industry is.
“Australian advertising is an integral part of the global industry, earning international recognition for its creative work and practices,” says Professor Sinclair. “But despite their significance, these practices and their historical development have not been examined.”
Now, with assistance from an ARC Discovery Grant, a socio-cultural study by a group of Australian and international researchers, led by the School of Historical and Philosophical Studies, will shed light on the complex relationship between advertising and Australian society. It will record, for the first time, the impact of globalisation on the work practices of this significant but under-analysed industry by examining not advertisements but the processes through which they are produced including hiring practices, agency hierarchies, client/agency relations and technological change.
Professor Sinclair, Associate Professor Robert Crawford from the University of Technology Sydney and Professor Linda Brennan from RMIT University are joint Chief Investigators on the project titled ‘Globalising the Magic System: a history of advertising industry practices in Australia 1959–1989’.
The year 1959 was chosen as a starting point for the historical investigation, to align with a new wave of international agencies and their clients arriving in Australia when the McCann-Erickson agency opened its doors in Sydney to service the needs of Coca-Cola. Its conclusion abuts the eve of the deregulation of the Australian advertising industry in 1991.
“Scholars have traced the emergence and significance of the Creative Revolution in the US, where the importance of connecting the consumer to the brand or product was emphasised by appealing directly to their emotions rather than lecturing them on the size or importance of the advertiser – but the history of its influence, adaptation and adoption around the globe is yet to be written,” says Professor Sinclair.
“The story of how shifts in advertising’s global culture were received, negotiated and resisted by the Australian advertising industry remains to be told, an issue our project will redress by revealing exactly how the forces of globalisation interacted with pre-existing local forces to produce a uniquely hybrid industry in Australia.”
The research team, which in addition to the Chief Investigators, includes Professor Susan Smulyan of Browns University in the US, Dr Sean Nixon from the University of Essex and Senior Research Associate Dr Jackie Dickenson from the School of Historical and Philosophical Studies, has prepared a strong base from which to launch the project. This includes a preliminary database of appropriate interviewees and the complete scripts of interviews conducted by Dr Dickenson with a representative range of current and former advertising creatives.
In addition, a workshop with 20 leading industry practitioners was hosted in May 2009 by the (then) School of Historical Studies at the University of Melbourne. This included Russell Howcroft from ABC’s The Gruen Transfer, and advertising industry legends Rosem’ry Bertel, Ron Mather and Jack Vaughan.