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Review: MakeSHIFT – “An entertaining and nostalgic picture of the last 20+ years”

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For all your waking hours you are surrounded by advertising.  We carry it around in our pockets with our phones, it pops up while you watch those funny cat videos you’re procrastinating with, we fast forward through them on our PVR recordings.  But obviously it wasn’t always this way.  The predecessors of the digital age of advertising media were less intrusive, first in print, then in radio, and then in television.  As the internet started to take over, advertisers had to learn to leave their traditional ways behind to embrace a digital evolution.  That charge towards innovation is the story told in the documentary MakeSHIFT.

Directed by Casey Suchan and Tim Cawley, MakeSHIFT is a straight forward watch with plenty of interviews from industry insiders who were at the forefront of change.  Some were more successful than others, and some still seem to pine for the days of yesteryear where there were seventeen ad agency employees on set for television spots, stays at fancy hotels and seemingly infinite expense accounts.  But then the internet came and disrupted everything, and to survive, the ideas behind how advertisers spoke to the consumer had to change. 

Starting in 1993 and moving through the decades to the present day, MakeSHIFT will speak to those who grew up in the 80’s and 90’s, who remember and also experienced, the time while the internet age was just beginning.  There is a sense of nostalgia in seeing the likes of Netscape or those horribly pixilated banner ads that adorned the text-heavy, basic websites of those early years.  It’s something that may amaze younger viewers, those who have always been privy to the fancier, animated and interactive websites introduced by Flash and iOS systems.  But these technologies changed creativity abilities for programmers and advertisers alike, and they were forced to work together.  They could then talk to the consumer and take away the ‘passive observer.’

The ability to carry technology in the palms of our hands, alongside the surge of social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter have even still revolutionized what content truly means.  While advertisers used to have say over how we felt about certain products now, as one interviewee says, “Consumers change consumer sentiment.”  Advertising is now about a digital experience, about making people talk, creating community.  We have so many choices about how we get our content that advertisers have to make it worth our while.  That experience then becomes ever more important for their success, and consumers want it to be authentic. 

If you’ve worked within or are currently part of the advertising world, you’re likely to find a lot to love about MakeSHIFT.  Perhaps you’ll even recognize some of the 40+ people interviewed for this film.  I feel like this film was made for you.  As a general viewer, it painted an entertaining and nostalgic picture of the last 20+ years (that Old Spice Man still makes me laugh) and made me interested in where things will evolve next.  At times it seems unbelievable to see how much things have changed in such a relatively short period of time, but people’s creativity and innovation are equally amazing.  While it would be easy to delve more into the manipulative side of advertising, and certainly this documentary very quickly dabbles in the issues of privacy and data collection, MakeSHIFT is instead a celebration of those that managed to succeed against a tidal wave of change.  It certainly won’t be the last challenge ahead of them.  

MakeSHIFT is currently available on VOD and Digital platforms.

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