By Alistair Moir (Archive and Library Collections Manager, https://www.hatads.org.uk/.)
The History of Advertising Trust (HAT) is a nationally accredited archive service established in 1976 to preserve the heritage of the UK advertising industry and make it available for study and research. Today the HAT archive is the most comprehensive collection of British advertising and marketing communications in the world. Over the past forty years the Trust’s collections have developed into a truly unique resource for advertising industry and brand heritage records. Archives of several major advertising agencies and industry professional bodies form the core of HAT’s collections, alongside ephemeral press, poster and commercials collections.
Advertising provides a unique barometer of social and economic change. The proposed, rejected, accepted, and completed advertising campaigns contain vital information about our society and the era in which they were researched, developed, and created. They record contemporary life, the changing roles and aspirations of men and women, technological innovation, the latest fashions, interior designs, and graphic styles, and shifting social attitudes, moral values, and behaviour.
Alongside industry collections, HAT also provides brand heritage management services to corporate clients including Heinz UK, Hovis, Butlin’s, and Vimto. Brand heritage management is a large part of the Trust’s funding strategy, supplementing the income gained through charitable donations from the industry. Brands can deposit their archives at HAT to be managed by the archive staff. The Trust accommodates varying levels of archive client, from brands who are simply looking for secure, environmentally monitored archival storage, to those who would like a full project team to work on their archive and collaborate with their marketing teams. The service provides a cost-effective way for brands to preserve, manage, and unlock the potential of their heritage.
Knowing the marketing history of a brand always gives agencies a competitive edge when pitching for their account. Historical research in this area is especially effective when the brand’s marketing staff do not know their company’s history themselves, as is often the case. Unfortunately very few companies operate a professionally managed archive service and brand history is sadly often lost, or worse deliberately destroyed in mergers and office moves.
The Trust is often contacted by brands who have lost their heritage due to not having maintained a professionally managed corporate archive. This contact usually happens when the brand has reached a milestone anniversary or are trying to develop a timeline or other heritage-based marketing tool on their website. However, because they have never invested any real funds into properly preserving it, they have very few records to prove it to consumers. In these situations, HAT is in an excellent position to be able to provide commissioned research services to furnish a brand with the required ‘instant heritage’. However, despite the huge benefits that authentic heritage can give to a marketing campaign, few companies are willing to place any significant or long-term investment into archives.
As a result, HAT faces several funding challenges. Firstly, in a fiercely competitive industry, advertising agencies are always keen to be seen as progressive and cutting edge. Thus the business case in support of a heritage body is often a difficult one to make. This is especially pronounced when the cost of properly preserving and managing heritage is much higher than shoving it in an empty office cupboard or a standard storage facility. Secondly, when asked to help fund a centralised archive for the industry there is sometimes little enthusiasm within an agency for helping to preserve a rival’s history. Thirdly, many agencies have a fast turnover of staff, with people moving between agencies and brands frequently. This transience means that HAT has to establish new contacts and put the case for funding across year on year, which is often difficult and time consuming.
In the unsettled political environment in the UK today, consumers are looking for brands they can trust. One of the easiest ways to gain consumer trust is to show that you have heritage. More brands are becoming aware of this fact and some are beginning to approach HAT about setting up a cost-effective client archive. Yet there are still many more for which heritage remains an afterthought, sadly leading to the loss of large amounts of wonderful and important British corporate and marketing history.
Images: HAT logo and archives. Photo credit: HAT