Does Today’s Advert =Tomorrow’s History?

Ian and Juliette of Superfilmtv. Image courtesy of Ditto.
Ian and Juliette of Superfilmtv. Image courtesy of Ditto.

Last week I had the opportunity to be part of a filmed advertisement for Ditto, the fun and friendly marketing company in Sevenoaks who created the gorgeous History Magpie design sitting at the top of this page.  It was an occasion that took me far from my comfort zone but, despite my nerves, it was a wonderful experience and on my way home I started to think about the connection between today’s ‘up to the minute’ filming and the nostalgic black and white newsreels that now give us                                                                                           a glimpse into the past.

Companies such as Timereel Studios have collated old news footage into narrated films.

HMS Ocelot - the last submarine to be built at Chatham.  Image courtesy of Chatham Historic Dockyard.
HMS Ocelot – the last submarine to be built at Chatham. Image courtesy of Chatham Historic Dockyard.

Their film, Kent Past, shows the launching of a submarine at Chatham Dockyard and Winston Churchill visiting Dover, both of which were recognised as important events at the time. Now they are deemed, quite rightly, as ‘historic’ but other clips showing cockney hop pickers, the crew on-board the NORE lightship receiving their Christmas boxes and a bathing dress parade at Folkestone were, at the time of filming, everyday events.

So when does something really become historic? The Oxford Dictionary states that to be historic something has to be ‘famous or important with regards to history’ which to my mind means that unless it has an obvious historical significance at the time, such as a royal occasion or an outbreak of war, many things only become historic with hindsight, when the activity or object depicted is obsolete.

And with technology advancing at such a rate I wonder how last week’s advert will fare in the long term.  Will it eventually just become dated due to our clothes and the methods used or will it, with the test of time, become a historical example of the way advertising was created in the early 21st century?

*Disclaimer – Timereel Studio kindly sent me a promo copy of Kent Past and Kent at War a few years ago.

4 Comments

  1. oddlyactive

    I think advertising at the highest end of the game kind of segues into ‘Art’, so it becomes historical in that sense. Then you have advertising that surrounds culturally significant products – i.e. the ‘Apple/Steve Jobs’ kind of iconicity – that becomes historical by association, even if it’s not particularly ground-breaking or fresh when viewed outside of that association.

    And of course advertising reinvents itself in so many other ways – ‘Madmen’ tv series, springs to mind, which is hugely influential in terms of its production values and style etc, as does the work of (i.e.) Warhol / Lichtenstein etc, who started out as admen and became, effectively, products themselves as internationally recognised ‘brands’ incorporated and referenced in all sorts of different sectors of our cultural heritage. I’m not sure I’m making any sense (tired – and I always get a bit flaky when tired!), but in a nutshell I guess what I’m trying to say is that GOOD advertising becomes culturally significant and that makes it historically significant too. The stuff that isn’t so good might have a certain nostalgia appeal, but will never be historically valuable in the same way. The trouble is, we can’t guess what’s coming so what might seem significant now may seem passe when viewed retrospectively (and vice versa). It is, as you say, only with hindsight that the value of ‘everyday’ events (or adverts) can be fully appreciated, because it is hindsight that provides the context.

    I’ll shut up now and get some sleep!

    1. Rachael Hale aka the 'History Magpie'

      Hi David, sleepy or not you’ve made a good point. So, in this case, and given the benefit of hindsight, it will all depend upon the long term achievements of the people involved in this particular advert whether it becomes purely a nostalgic clip of how things were done or something truly ‘historic’. No pressure then!

  2. Victorian Supersleuth

    An excellent post and a tricky question to answer. Your advert is a ‘historic’ moment for you and as such, it’s an important event and future piece of history. I can’t wait to see the finished product!

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