1960s Creativity and breaking the rules

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Population: 179.3 million (1960), 203.3 million (1970)

Employment: 58.1% employment (1960), 60.4% employment (1970)

Presidents: Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953-1961), John F. Kennedy (1961-1963), Lyndon B. Johnson (1963-1969), Richard M. Nixon (1969-1974)

Big names in advertising:

William Bernbach and Helmut Krone, Doyle Dane Bernbach; Howard Luck Gossage, Freeman, Mander & Gossage; Marion Harper Jr., Interpublic Group of Cos.; Ray Kroc, McDonald's Corp.; Mary Wells Lawrence, Wells, Rich, Greene; David Ogilvy, Ogilvy & Mather; John Smale, Procter & Gamble

Top agency in 1960: J. Walter Thompson Co. ($370 million)

Top advertiser in 1960: General Motors Corp. ($168.5 million)

Total U.S. ad spending in 1960: $12.0 billion

Social and political change-embodied by the counterculture movement-characterized the 1960s, which began with the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963. Young Americans distrusted government and business (advertising included), and marketers had to work to build trust. Baby boomers began coming of age and drove changes in everything from social issues to the arts to marketing. Riots in Chicago and Detroit in 1968 were violent examples of the strife that occurred throughout the decade as the public dealt with racial issues and the Vietnam War. Yet, the 1960s was a period of economic prosperity as well, with disposable income and leisure time at their highest levels ever, and newfound sexual freedom with the availability of the Pill. Some events-notably the Apollo 11 moon walk in 1969-managed to bring all Americans together in a spirit of hope and optimism.


Compared to the TV and postwar demand-driven increases of the 1950s, growth in ad spending slowed. Billings rose from $12.0 billion in 1960 to $19.6 billion in 1970, not even doubling. Yet the decade spawned a "creative revolution" in advertising, with agencies using self-deprecating humor, irreverence and irony to appeal to young consumers. Doyle Dane Bernbach's Volkswagen work, launched at the end of the 1950s but emblematic of the creative, ironic approach of the 1960s, focused on the car's "liabilities" with headlines such as "Ugly," "Lemon" and "Think Small." Advertising Age later named the effort the top campaign of the 20th century.

One key goal of advertising was to win over young consumers, who were disaffected and distrustful of corporate messages. Both Pepsi-Cola Co. and Coca-Cola Co. managed to do this well. Pepsi's "Think young" and "Pepsi Generation" campaigns (Batten, Barton, Durstine, & Osborn) and Coca-Cola's multi-ethnic, peace-promoting "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing" effort (McCann-Erickson) drove sales of the brands, at the expense of their competitors, and inaugurated the "cola wars." Advertisers also worked to incorporate youth-targeted pop-culture references into their spots, such as Campbell's tweaking its slogan to read "M'm, m'm, groovy!"

Social issues penetrated advertising; Lever Bros. and Gillette Co. were among the many advertisers that pledged to show more African-Americans in commercials. Looser moral standards made it possible for agencies to create racier ads to stand out from the competition.

Advertisers began to differentiate individual brands by giving them a personality, such as Avis' image campaign establishing it as the No. 2 car rental company that "tries harder." No. 1 Hertz continued to generate the "How did they do that?" wizardry as it and its agency, Norman, Craig & Kummel, portrayed people flying through the air and into a moving convertible to the theme of "Hertz puts you in the driver's seat." Alka-Seltzer did Speedy one better in the 1960s to solve the country's heartburn woes. The Doyle Dane Bernbach team of Roy Grace and Evan Stark bemoaned, "Mama, mia, atsa some spicy meatball." And in one of the earliest TV examples of using sex to sell, former Miss Sweden Gunilla Knutson cooed the double entendre, "Take it off, take it all off," as the theme from "The Stripper" played. Red-blooded American males heeded her call for Noxzema shave cream.

The 1960 U.S. Census began to offer segmented research, not only on per-capita income and population density but also on lifestyles. Advertisers could more narrowly target their consumers, and increasingly did so using "psychographic" data to create image campaigns. In the late 1960s, when it became apparent that an economic recession was likely, marketers moved away from image advertising and toward research-backed, results-driven strategies. Some marketers even canceled ad campaigns or took their marketing activity in-house.

The agency business experienced some significant changes. McCann-Erickson's leader, Marion Harper Jr., created a new structure when he established the Interpublic Group of Cos. as a holding company in 1960. And the decade saw a major expansion of U.S. agencies abroad. Doyle Dane Bernbach was among the first to open an international office, in Germany in 1961, but others increased their international presence.

New media

TV solidified its rank as the leading ad medium. Spending on TV grew from $1.5 billion in 1959 to $3.5 billion in 1969 as more advertisers tried this still relatively new mass medium. The rising cost and increased demand led to a movement from 60-second to 30-second spots. In 1961, Newton Minow coined the term "a vast wasteland" to describe what he perceived as the low-quality and ad-cluttered TV landscape.

One innovation was color. Manufacturers tried to differentiate the color quality of their sets with names such as Total Automatic Color (Magnavox) and Chromacolor (Zenith). Due to steep competition, the category drove significant ad spending; Zenith, which surpassed $1 billion in sales during the decade, had an estimated ad budget of $25 million. NBC introduced its famous peacock logo to identify color shows.

Newspapers remained the dominant ad medium for local advertisers, but magazines lost ground to TV. Oversize, photo-heavy mass-market magazines took a significant hit over the decade, and in 1969 The Saturday Evening Post was the first of many to go under. Special-interest magazines started to grow, however; New York Magazine, Texas Monthly and Washingtonian were among the many regional and city magazines to launch during this decade. FM radio finally blossomed, allowing an eclectic range of genres. Meanwhile, outdoor advertising came under fire when the 1965 Highway Beautification Act, which counted first lady Lady Bird Johnson as a supporter, limited the use of billboards to commercial areas.

Everyday life

Franchises and retail chains grew in prominence during the 1960s. Regional grocery chains accounted for almost half of all food sales at retail, and today's Big 3 discount chains-Wal-Mart, Target and Kmart-all debuted in 1961.

The counterculture movement gave rise to several anti-corporate voices, with environmentalist Rachel Carson, investigative journalist Jessica Mitford and consumer advocate Ralph Nader all raising a high profile. The consumer movement was propelled in part by a backlash against ad industry ethics (using actors to portray doctors, for example). In general, the inherent materialism represented by advertising went against the grain of the youth culture.

As the anti-establishment trend expanded from being college-centered to mainstream, tastes in art, fashion and music all evolved. The youth culture drove much of the creativity during the decade, when nearly 50% of the U.S. population was under the age of 25. Pop Art became popular and appeared in commercials, and conversely, commercial icons appeared in art, as in the images of Andy Warhol. The blurring of the line between art and commerce became a key theme in the Pop Art movement. Meanwhile, animation experienced a heyday, led by the Hanna-Barbera studio, which had launched in 1957. Animated spokescharacters enjoyed popularity during the 1960s, from P&G's Mr. Clean (Tatham-Laird) to the Pillsbury Doughboy ( Leo Burnett).

On TV, the top-rated shows during the first half of the decade continued to be westerns, from "Bonanza" to "Rawhide," while sitcoms such as "Bewitched" and "The Andy Griffith Show" gained popularity. In the late 1960s, the top show was pop culture-driven "Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In." In music, Elvis and rock 'n' roll continued their dominance in the early 1960s, until the Beatles' 1964 U.S. debut on "The Ed Sullivan Show" started the British Invasion. Motown acts, such as the Temptations and Diana Ross, also saturated the airwaves.

Many of the best-selling books of the 1960s, such as J.D. Salinger's "Catcher in the Rye" and Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird," featured characters that appealed to youthful readers, while others, such as those from Jacqueline Susann and Henry Miller, controversially focused on sex and drugs. Meanwhile, spy novels from John Le Carr‚ and especially Ian Fleming hit a chord. Movies based on Mr. Fleming's James Bond reached fad status and launched a whole range of spy-related TV series.

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