The U.S., 1960: Nine out of 10 households have a TV, and the medium has become a pillar of culture and communications. Marketers relish their relatively newfound power to reach directly into consumers' homes with full sight, sound and motion, but equally exciting changes are afoot. A creative revolution begins to sweep the ad industry against the backdrop of larger social and political change. Ads are bigger, bolder—and in color.
At the beginning of the decade, only 11 prime-time programs are offered in color, all on NBC. By 1965, more than half of all network fall prime-time programming is broadcast in color. The first all-color prime-time season comes just one year later. The shift is powerful for the Big 3 networks and their viewers, but also for advertisers: An early survey done in Cincinnati confirms that color TV commercials pack a punch, with more than triple the impact of black-and-white ads.
Advertisers aren't the only ones that stand to profit from the switch to color. TV manufacturers such as Magnavox and Zenith compete for customers, positioning color quality as a differentiator. Magnavox touts its Total Automatic Color set and Zenith its Chromacolor, and they spend heavily to get the word out. Zenith, which surpasses $1 billion in sales during the decade, has an estimated ad budget of $25 million.
Meanwhile, new editing techniques give TV spots a more sophisticated look and feel. This visual power has a ripple affect across advertising—print ads begin to rely less on copy and illustration, instead using photography for a more realistic look—but it's TV that solidifies its rank as the leading ad medium, with spending growing from $1.5 billion in 1959 to $3.5 billion in 1969. Increasing demand and rising costs lead a movement from 60-second to 30-second spots. But some consumers—and regulators—are growing weary of the ad and programming clutter. In 1961, Newton Minow, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, famously calls TV content of the era a "vast wasteland."
Top-rated TV shows early in the decade are westerns, including "Bonanza" and "Rawhide," while sitcoms "Bewitched" and "The Andy Griffith Show" also gain viewers. In the late 1960s, pop culture-driven "Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In" becomes the top show.
To grab viewers' attention, advertisers and agencies become more daring and innovative with their creative, using humor, irreverence and irony to win over an increasingly skeptical—and valuable—audience of young consumers. In the "cola wars," Pepsi-Cola Co. rolls out "Think Young" and "Pepsi Generation," while Coca-Cola Co. unveils "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing." Campbell's tweaks its slogan to read, "M'm, m'm, groovy!"
Avis uses its position as the No. 2 car rental company to promise consumers that it "tries harder." Doyle Dane Bernbach and Alka-Seltzer address the unpleasantries of heartburn with their "Mama, mia, atsa some spicy meatball" campaign, and Noxema shave cream, in one of the earliest TV examples of using sex to sell, features former Miss Sweden Gunilla Knutson urging men to "Take it off, take it all off" as the theme from "The Stripper" plays.
Creative plays a key role through the decade, but advertisers increasingly look to data to inform their efforts. In 1960, the U.S. Census begins to offer segmented research, not only on per-capita income and population density but also on lifestyles. Advertisers can now more narrowly target consumers and start to use "psychographic" data to create image campaigns.
From a social perspective, improvements in TV technology are bringing war and politics closer to home, as advances in coverage put the Vietnam War in vivid color into people's living rooms each night, and coverage of the decade's political assassinations and anti-war protests now break into regularly scheduled programming almost as soon as they happen.
Toward the end of the decade, when it becomes apparent that an economic recession is likely, marketers begin to move away from image advertising in favor of research-backed, results-driven strategies. The 1960s has brought the industry a creative revolution, but the 1970s will bring its own changes: a return to more serious advertising, the debut of game-changing technologies and the dawn of personalized marketing.
Next week: The 1970s
Previously: The 1950s
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