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Cash, colour, and communication: how technology has changed the consumer landscape

Posted by Tom Croft - Head of Marketing at PHMG on

2017 marks the 50th anniversary of two revolutionary firsts: the cash machine, and colour TV broadcasts in the UK. It’s also been a decade since Steve Jobs stepped on stage at the Macworld conference in San Francisco to unveil the iPhone – arguably the biggest technological advancement of our time. So join us as we take a journey through the ages, exploring how these innovations have transformed the way we consume.

“Everything that can be invented, has been invented.” These were the famous words of Charles H. Duell, Commissioner of the US patent office in 1899 – a quote which now seems almost laughable. The 20th and 21st centuries have brought innumerable, life-changing advances in technology, one of which was the humble cash machine. When the world’s first ATM was revealed by Barclays in 1967, it brought with it a new wave of consumerism. With cash now readily available, the natural development was a huge increase in spending. The inconvenience of queuing at the bank became a thing of the past; if you saw something in the shop window, you could withdraw the money and buy it within minutes. ‘Buy now’ became fashionable; immediacy was all the rage – leading to an inevitable boom in consumer culture.

In the same year, another development in technology would spell a further uptrend in effective marketing. Spectators of Wimbledon in 1967 watched in awe, but the skill and athleticism of John Newcombe and Billie Jean King weren’t the only things to be marvelled at. Centre Court was plush and green, the tennis stars sipped on orange squash between sets, the pensive crowd was awash with blues, reds and yellows. Colour TV was the star of the show. And it wasn’t long before businesses seized this opportunity to promote themselves in new and exciting ways. Colour advertising presented products as dynamic, exotic, fresh, and innovative – it brought them to life. Suddenly all the more desirable, customers were clamouring to purchase the items presented to them in glorious technicolour.

40 years later, the same levels of awe were felt thanks to an invention many of us now couldn’t live without: the iPhone. In 2007, Apple placed the vast capabilities of the internet into our pockets – and the world never looked back. Now, we can buy, sell, photograph and share, all at the touch of a glossy, reactive screen. Businesses can reach out to us anywhere, at almost any time, making marketing less of an active pursuit, and more organic. The immediacy of purchase introduced with the ATM, and heightened by colour TV, has multiplied with the iPhone. Seeing a product you like, paying for it, and arranging delivery is a process that now takes less than a minute – accelerating consumerism at breakneck new speeds. And beneath the online capabilities, the iPhone was exactly that – a phone. At the same time as browsing, shoppers are also seconds away from making an enquiry or contacting a customer service line, meaning the voice-to-voice method of contacting a company continues to endure in popularity.

Looking to the future, who knows what technology we’ll have at our fingertips? In 50 years, with the rise of virtual reality, is it inconceivable to consider online shopping becoming a walk-in cyber world, where we can browse or try on clothes? When will we be able to virtually test drive a new car? Realistically, it’s almost impossible to predict. But wherever technology takes us, there’s no denying it’ll continue to change the way we spend – and the way businesses work to capture consumers.

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