Advertising provided the information and incentive to keep consumption at an all-time high, but it was perhaps best known during this decade for its "creative revolution"—in which traditional styles and formats were discarded in favor of the "new advertising," characterized as irreverent, humorous, self-deprecating, ironic and resonant. Advertising was also beset during the decade by criticism and regulatory concerns as consumer advocates sought new rights and protections for buyers.
Political and social upheaval
The 1960s in America were a time of enormous social and political change. Old attitudes toward war, race, gender, age, tradition and authority were challenged. Idealistic young people protested against the materialism, consumerism, capitalism and conformism of their parents' generation.
The postwar baby boom generation came of age in the 1960s, with almost 50% of the U.S. population being under the age of 25 by the middle of the decade.
The consumer movement gained force in the 1960s, fueled in part by a number of social critiques of advertising ethics.
Advertising was castigated for its tendency to promote materialism and for exaggerated and often deceitful practices, such as presenting doctors—who were actually actors—making claims about the healthful aspects of cigarettes. Portrayed as "waste makers" and "subliminal charlatans" by their critics, advertisers were threatened with increased government regulation and, in some countries, taxation.
Innovative campaigns such as Pepsi Cola's "Think Young" and "Pepsi Generation" from Batten, Barton, Durstine & Osborn reflected advertisers' efforts to tone down their claims and establish a new relationship with their audiences.
Whereas advertising previously had treated the counterculture as deviant, undesirable and marginalized, marketers now attempted to connect with the youth market. However, the generation depicted in ad campaigns, as in the case of Pepsi's youth advertising, was generally all white and rather cleaned up—somewhat different from the hippie counterculture marketers now sought.
The "creative revolution"
Depending less on research, advertising turned to its creative instinct. Eschewing portrayals of elitism, materialism, authoritarianism, reverence for institutions and other traditional beliefs, ads attempted to win over consumers with humor, candor and, above all, irony.
The melding of art and commerce became a touchstone of the decade. The "new advertising" took its cue from the visual medium of TV and the popular posters of the day, which featured large visuals and minimal copy for a dazzling, dramatic effect. Print ads took on a realistic look, relying more on photography than illustration, and TV spots gained sophistication as new editing techniques were mastered.
Starting in 1959 and running into the early '60s, Doyle Dane Bernbach created one of the most renowned campaigns in advertising history for Volkswagen to promote its tiny Beetle in the U.S. at a time when Americans were mesmerized by large, tail-finned, super-powered automobiles. DDB decided to capitalize on the car's "liabilities" and advertise it with honesty. DDB's headlines—"Lemon," "Ugly" and "Think small"—broke a time-honored "rule" in advertising by employing negativity to address a product's features. In the case of Volkswagen, that meant no frills, no glamour, no model changes and very little horsepower.
Wells, Rich, Greene's "The Disadvantages" campaign for Benson & Hedges 100s focused on a product gimmick-an extra-long cigarette. Rather than emphasizing the extra puffs a smoker got, the campaign humorously showed the number of ways a long cigarette could get in the way.
Other notable campaigns during the decade were characterized by catchy slogans, such as Avis' "We try harder," Esso's "Put a tiger in your tank," Foster Grant's "Who's that behind those Foster Grants?" Alka-Seltzer's "I can't believe I ate the whole thing," Blackglama furs' "What becomes a legend most" and Wisk detergent's "Ring around the collar."
Others were characterized by their impact, such as the 1964 "Daisy" TV spot for the Lyndon Johnson for President campaign, which showed a girl counting daisy petals while a voice-over intoned a countdown leading to the detonation of a nuclear bomb—the likely outcome, it was implied, if President Johnson's opponent, Senator Barry Goldwater, were to be elected president.
Some campaigns became memorable for their spokescharacters, such as the Maytag repairman, the Pillsbury Doughboy, Ronald McDonald and Charlie the Tuna. Others, such as a series of Canada Dry ads, were noteworthy for their visuals. Presenting the drink as less than perfect, Canada Dry headlines read "Sure we could make it cheaper" or "We always said that nothing could compare with an ice-cold bottle of Canada Dry. We were wrong." The copy offered further explanation—and the sales pitch—while the ads appealed to consumers' sense of humor, candor and irony.
The decade was also marked by innovative publications by various individuals, some with long histories in the industry. David Ogilvy became the most famous man in advertising in October 1963 with the publication of his memoir, "Confessions of an Advertising Man," which sold 1 million copies and was translated into 14 languages.
Mr. Ogilvy's emphasis on ethics loosely associated him with others exposing questionable practices—environmentalist Rachel Carson, consumer advocate Ralph Nader and muckraker Jessica Mitford, all of whom had successful books on the market at the time.
Some believe the decade's most influential ad figure was William Bernbach. Mr. Bernbach spoke to a new generation of consumers with a number of memorable campaigns during the 1960s, including work for Avis, Volkswagen and Ohrbach's. He structured Doyle Dane Bernbach around a partnership between copywriters and art directors, and the agency's revolutionary creative work made industry history.
Another advertising superstar of the decade was Mary Wells Lawrence, who opened her agency, Wells, Rich, Greene, in 1966 and quickly became one of the most influential women in advertising history. In 1969, she became the youngest person ever inducted into the Copywriters' Hall of Fame.
Her Alka-Seltzer campaign, "No Matter What Shape Your Stomach's In," caught the public's eye with its humor, human-interest approach and innovative style. Her sitcom-style Benson & Hedges commercials increased sales from 1.6 billion units in 1966 to 14.4 billion in 1970, and she brought Braniff International out of obscurity with clever and humorous spots themed, "The end of the plain plane."
The decade saw the final deterioration of the agency-TV network relationship in which the advertiser had complete control over the programming environment for its ad messages and the network provided the airtime and physical facilities. By the 1960s, the costs of programming had become so great that few advertisers could shoulder such a burden alone. By the end of the decade, participating sponsorship, in which national advertisers bought commercial slots from an inventory of network-supplied programming, was the norm.
While magazines lost ad revenue to TV, newspapers, which relied less on national advertising, remained the dominant medium for most local advertisers, and the potentially large audiences for programs of recorded music continued to draw advertisers to radio.
The oversize mass-audience magazines were hit hardest by competition from TV. The Saturday Evening Post ceased publication in 1969. (Collier's had published its final issue in 1956, and Look and Life would succumb to the power of TV in 1971 and '72, respectively.) While advertisers generally withdrew from magazines with broad readership, they did use special-interest publications to reach more narrowly defined audiences. Among the specialized magazines that emerged in the 1960s were regional and city magazines such as New York Magazine, Texas Monthly and Washingtonian.
Small independent retail stores began to give way to supermarkets, discount stores and other self-service outlets. The trend toward prepackaged products and self-service put the onus on advertising to promote specific brands and highlight their distinguishing features.
Giving products a personality or "image" was rewarding. Avis became the underdog, Volkswagen the minimalist and Esso the "tiger in your tank." The economies of scale in manufacturing and retailing meant an era of mergers and expansion, and the decade saw increasing numbers of companies, many of them U.S.-based, becoming international in scope. The decade also witnessed the growth of franchises and retail chains, as well as concentration of ownership. By 1963, for example, regional chains such as A&P and Safeway controlled nearly half of all retail food sales.
Ad agencies expanded operations as well, dealing with different types of clients and facing new marketing challenges. Mergers and acquisitions transformed agency identities, and a number of agencies went public. The first Madison Avenue agency to do so was Papert, Koenig, Lois in 1962; other agencies soon followed, and the initial public offering became an industry trend.
At McCann-Erickson, Marion Harper masterminded the agency's financial growth in part through the acquisition of other agencies. His Interpublic Group of Cos. functioned as the parent for a number of agencies operating independently, thereby eliminating any problems with client conflict of interest. Mr. Harper's model for Interpublic also influenced other agencies that, later in the century, created their own holding company structures.
Toward the end of the decade, with an economic recession looming, clients demanded that advertising justify its costs. In the agencies, accountants and business administrators were finding their way into positions formerly held by those from the creative side of the business. Market research again assumed a priority, edging out creativity as the hoped-for solution to the economic slowdown. Recession and a trend toward conservatism marked the end of a decade noted for its unprecedented creative surges in both advertising and culture as a whole.
While the major established agencies of the decade prospered, new agencies were founded and new reputations made. Jack Tinker, Mary Wells, Jerry Della Femina, Jay Chiat, Julian Koenig, Eugene Case, Helmut Krone, Jane Trahey and Carl Ally were among the individuals adfolk would talk about for years. Chiat/Day, established in California in 1968, became one of the industry's success stories.