The 1970s arrive with a measure of restraint and sobriety in the marketing industry. While the creative revolution and continued prosperity of the 1960s expanded advertisers' horizons, a recession, gas shortages and the long war in Vietnam are narrowing them once again. Looking for efficiency and accountability, advertisers retreat to a more common-sense approach. But even as they become more disciplined with their campaigns, they must remain nimble: In these 10 years, they'll also have to adapt to changing technologies and shifting societal trends.
They begin to "position" their products, using more hard-sell, empirical advertising than the big creative of the 1960s. They use computer-generated research and address the competition head-on: Seven-Up, with the "Un-Cola" effort it began in the late 1960s, positions itself as the opposite of Coca-Cola; Tylenol becomes the best-selling non-aspirin pain reliever by touting itself as "for the millions who should not take aspirin."
But in an era of increasing regulation, advertisers are becoming more limited in what they can—and can't—say. The Federal Trade Commission begins to order "corrective advertising"; ITT Continental Baking Co. is the first to agree to such a campaign in 1973. Regulators also order Listerine to spend $10 million to correct the claim that its mouthwash prevents colds and sore throats. The makers of Anacin are forced to spend $24 million to correct claims that the product relieves tension.
TV, meanwhile, finds itself under increasing pressure. The ban on cigarette advertising that takes effect early in the decade marks the loss of $150 million in revenue to TV stations and networks. The networks lose an estimated $10 million in ad revenue and airtime by running 300 hours of Watergate hearings coverage. They're prohibited by the Federal Communications Commission from owning the rebroadcast of prime-time shows. The practice of advertising to children comes under fire—a 1975 study by the Council on Children, Media & Merchandising found that half of ads in kids programming over the past decade was for food, mostly sugared cereal, cookies, candies and soft drinks—and, as a result, networks are forced to reduce Saturday morning commercial time.
For many marketers, TV remains the preferred ad medium throughout the decade, and with good reason: It's a staple of the American media diet. In 1976, 69 million U.S. homes own at least one TV set, and families watch more than six hours of TV a day on average. Sitcoms such as "All in the Family," "Happy Days," "Laverne & Shirley," "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," "M*A*S*H," "Sanford & Son" and "Three's Company" rank as the top shows.
Yet by the end of the decade, broadcast TV will be threatened by the growth of cable. In 1975, HBO telecasts the Ali vs. Frazier "Thrilla in Manila" boxing match, marking the first time satellites are used to send scheduled programming to separate cable systems. By the following year, Ted Turner's WTBS in Atlanta becomes a "superstation" delivered over cable, and Chicago's WGN soon follows. Viacom's Showtime network debuts in 1978. ESPN launches a year later and goes on to become the most successful basic cable network.
Notable new technologies also begin to shake up the status quo. With the debut of the videocassette recorder—Sony Corp.'s Betamax and JVC's VHS, the format that eventually wins out—TV viewers take control of when they watch and what they watch, as they quickly discover they can fast-forward through ads. Warner Cable creates an interactive/videotext service, called Qube, that enables households to answer polls and heralds the possibilities of one-to-one marketing. Personalized advertising—in the form of mailings targeting recipients by name—makes its debut in 1974, while the Universal Product Code Scanner comes on the scene in 1977. And though it will be years before email is widely used, it's during the 1970s that the first known junk email is sent over Arpanet, the predecessor of the Internet.
By the 1980s, advertiser budgets and government regulation will loosen, but the trends started in the 1970s—the fragmentation of the TV industry and the debut of technologies that put the consumer in the driver's seat—will continue to set the stage for marketing as we now know it.
Next week: The 1980s
Previously: The 1960s
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