Toby and Horry at Kimbolton school speech day 1985

future of marketing

Is your advertising Handbuilt by Robots?

TUI's group brand and content director - and son of legendary adman David Horry - reflects on useful lessons from the past

By Toby Horry

When you get asked to write about the future of marketing it’s of course tempting to talk about the shiny new thing; how AI is going to revolutionise the way we work and make half of us redundant (did I write this using ChatGPT?); how we’re all going to live in the Metaverse (despite the fact I currently don’t seem to have enough time to live in the current-verse); how customer data is the new oil etc etc

But this week I have cause to look back….

Sadly my father, David Horry, died on 2 February 2023. Know universally as Horry, he was an art director, starting his career in the bullpen at DDB in 1971 before working at agencies such as CDP, Lowe Howard-Spink, WCRS (Matthews Marcantonio) and Saatchi & Saatchi. Whilst this is clearly an upsetting time for his family and friends it has prompted me to look back at the work he did over the years and what is striking is how much of it still resonates today. So instead of soothsaying the future, I thought I’d pull out a few of the lessons that I think we should consider from the past.

  • The power of the product demo

When you look back at so much work of the 70s and 80s it is notable how much of the work is fundamentally a dramatised product demo.

A few examples from my father’s portfolio:

Vymura – a demonstration of how Vymura’s range has paints, wallpapers that are designed to be used together

Walls Sausages – a demonstration that Walls sausages are meaty and delicious

Hertz – a demonstration of how Hertz makes all aspects of the car rental experience better than the competition

Clarks Baby Factory – a simple explanation of how Clarks make shoes to cater for all types of children’s feet

I feel that a key lesson here is that product demonstrations might sound unsexy but dramatised in the right way can be thoroughly engaging. Do we need to bring back the product demo?

  • Having a life outside of work

My father was renowned for having the attention span of a circus flea (someone posted following his death that he put the DH in ADHD). And yet he was passionate about his interests outside of work and believed that this fuelled the ability to be creative in work. He was a dedicated philatelist and wrote books on the postmarks of Caribbean countries during the reign of George VI, he was a lifelong Manchester United fan and was able to regularly complete the Times Cryptic Crossword in under ten minutes. Clearly I’m not suggesting that you rush out and start your stamp collection but in a world where work can become all encompassing I think it’s important to have interests outside work as this will help drive your curiosity and ability to think laterally when you’re in work.

  • Consistency

What makes a lot of great work from the 70s and 80s stand out is its longevity. We are all aware of the perilously short tenure of the average CMO and the temptation to use change as a demonstration of impact. But sometimes the brave thing to do is to stick with what you have.

There are many examples of this but perhaps the best is Hamlet Cigars. Here’s a couple which my father had a hand in.

Hamlet – ‘Gates of Heaven’

Hamlet – ‘Foota Pools’

The iconic work ran for over 30 years, only halted by legislative change, and was a rare example of a campaign which was ruthlessly consistent and yet every execution was completely different. The benefit to the brand is still felt today (they are by far the biggest cigar brand in the UK) even though the last Hamlet ad ran in 1999. Perhaps we need to change things up a bit less often.

  • The Art of Copy

The media landscape has of course changed significantly and stats are often cited as to how many messages we are exposed to on a given day and how our attention spans have dwindled to the point of… ooh squirrel.

But perhaps one of the things that has been inadvertently discarded as a result of this is the power of good copy. When you look at press ads from the era, what stands out is the craft that went into the copy to make it engaging and the attention paid to how that copy integrated into the art direction. This Olympus ad (copywritten by Alfredo Marcantonio and art directed by my father) utilised press shots of Dennis Healy and Tony Benn who at the time were fierce rivals in the Labour Party.

And this is a great example of one of a long line of Stella Artois Press work extolling the virtues of its premium price point (I believe this was written by Chris O’Shea and Art Directed by Caroline Baker.)

My father was an art director but worked with some incredible copywriters such as Paul Weiland, Dave Brown, Alfredo Marcantonio and Tony Brignull and I genuinely feel that a lot of the press advertising of the day would stand out in the current media environment. (If you want to dig deeper it’s worth trying to get hold of an original copy if D&ADs ‘The Copy Book’ from 1995 and the CDP book published in 2000).

  • Fun

My dad was firm believer that work should be fun. He often took this to extremes and saw practical jokes as something that was part of his job description. For example, in the late 80s he paid to have a colleague’s office completely sealed off to the extent that it was like there hadn’t been an office there in the first place. The film still exists of the poor colleague striding purposefully to his office on Monday morning to find it gone. Had he got off at the wrong floor? Was he even in the right building?

It's right that marketing has become increasingly ‘professionalised’ in the last thirty years but that professionalism shouldn’t come at the expense of fun. We are fundamentally an ideas based business and ideas are more likely to thrive in a positive, fun environment rather than one which is oppressive or dull.

As we look to a future where advertising is increasingly handbuilt by robots, it becomes more important than ever to be distinctive. And maybe there’s a few things from the old days that might just help.

Toby Horry is group brand and content director at TUI


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