I’m casting my mind back to the early 1980s, me just into my twenties. A junior marketing ‘Executive’ (goffer, dogs’ body…but ‘Executive’ to me and all that knew of my elevation) for a substantial, very traditional, wines and spirits company. I’m attending a brainstorming meeting as to how the company’s marketing plans can embrace the future. This is not necessarily the norm at a company where the Directors dining room served sherry as an aperitif, wine with the three-course luncheon. Followed by a port, cognac or Armagnac, daily. Invited just the once I needed to have read Debret’s Etiquette and then reserved a cubicle in the gents to sleep it off; our constitutions are not what the aristocracy are blessed with.
Back to the meeting. Bedecked in a bargain pin-striped suit from the home of smutter at the back of London’s Petticoat Lane, with braces of course. The ladies with hairdos and shoulder pads as wide as each other. The tea ladies have finished serving elevenses, with biscuits, from their trolley.
Our big boss, a very posh Marketing Director, covers the essentials then asks for ideas. I put my hand up; smiles all round.
‘I was talking to the guys who run the computer,’ I start. Bearing in mind that the computer was housed in an airconditioned room with the footprint of a terraced house (no not Downing Street!). ‘And they spoke about how in the future we all will have our own personal computers.’
‘You’ll need a very big house,’ a colleague chipped in.
‘They reckon that you will be able to link up with telephones to send information.’
‘So, the telephone seat in the hallway will have to be moved into the room containing the computer?’
‘There’s cordless now.’
Yes, but with coverage little more than the length of the telephone lead and you simply sound like you’re in a goldfish bowl.’
‘Well they reckon, and they should know.’
‘They’re from a different planet though.’
‘Well they are convinced that we will be using computers and telephones as marketing devices.’
‘Yes, quite, I even heard that the computer will enable the Royal Mail to mail to millions of homes without stamps. Pigs will fly, maybe the postmen will as well. I tell you what if they’re right, which seems very unlikely, the ladies on the switchboard will be wanting a rise.’
‘No seriously, they reckon that we will call it Direct Marketing and that this will lead to Social Marketing. Ads will not only be in the press, television and posters but the telephone will be used to convey marketing messages.’
’Right all very good,’ says the boss stirring his china cup.’ ‘Thanks for that, very entertaining. Now let’s get on with reality and some tangible ideas, it’s nearly lunchtime. We need to expand the tasting programmes in cash ‘n’ carry’s and get more optics into the pubs…’
The meeting concluded, feeling a little belittled but that I had at least made my point. The advice from the rest of the team was that I should concentrate on what was achievable and keep hair-brained ideas to the pub after a few drinks if I wanted to get on. Belief was that although very clever, computers had their limitations…
…Moral of story?…You never totally know what the future holds; embrace and only reject with proof. Remember those Beatle boys were turned down once?…