This Week in Ad Age History: A Lot Like This Week in Ad Age Present

When Pop Rocks Were Hot and Agency Compensation Was All the Rage

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If history is a teacher, Ad Age 's archive is an entire university. I've been at this publication for nearly a third of its life, so I'm well aware what treasures are buried in those dusty files -- and yes, they are mainly paper files; we began digitizing only in 1992.

Front-page story from the April 16, 1966, issue of Ad Age
Front-page story from the April 16, 1966, issue of Ad Age
I began tweeting old headlines a few months ago mainly as a lark, but the more I dug, I realized our back issues are a barometer of what's changed -- and what hasn't in marketing. For all our progress, in a lot of ways we haven't come that far.

Consider this story from nearly a half-century ago: April 16, 1966. For perspective, the Beatles were still touring the U.S., it was the year that Medicare was introduced and the very first "Star Trek" episode aired.

Here was our headline: "If Account is Profitable, Agency Isn't Overpaid." The front-page story quoted a speech to the ANA by Campbell Soup and General Foods alum Clarence E. Eldridge in which he declared that no price is too high for advertising that returns a profit on client investment. "The excellence of agency service is primary, the cost secondary," he told the ANA. Among his tenets: "The client should not dictate who should be assigned to his account, and performance is the only thing that should be subject to advertiser control, not how that performance is achieved."

So, Madison Avenue, how's that been going for you?

Here's another gem from that same page. William T. Ylvisaker, indentified as group VP-General American Transportation Corp., said in a speech to the Industrial Advertisers Mid-America Conference that "the advertising manager must walk the narrow line between solid, competent recommendations and an overbearing or over-defensive posture of 'Listen to me first!' "

Fast-forward 12 years, to April 17, 1978. Our lead story -- clearly a big scoop and played above the masthead -- is a cautionary tale of what can happen when your product sells too well. Then marketed by General Foods, Pop Rocks candy was the absolute rage and selling out so fast that retailers were diverting it around the country in a frantic attempt to fill empty shelves.

Still safe to drink with Coke.
Still safe to drink with Coke.
The problem was the candy exploded in temperatures over 85 and literally blew the doors off delivery trucks. Our headline: "Pop Rocks Hot Item -- But Not Too Hot. Please."

That same issue carried a story about ABC paying $20 million to purchase a sizzling-hot media business: magazine publishing. Among the titles were Hog Farm Management and Dairy Farm Management.

By April 17, 1989, we had moved on to a beer ban and a new man. Much to the relief of brewers everywhere, the NCAA was poised to drop its ban on beer commercials, salvaging $36 million in category advertising revenue. Saved were spots like this 1989 classic.

On the next page, forward-thinking Jann Wenner told Ad Age he was going to shatter the men's magazine paradigm by creating a title that covered health, sports and style. "The evolution of the male shopper is a new phenomenon," he told our reporter. "The idea of men as broad-range consumers, buying something besides a rifle, is a new one."

Last from this blast of dispatches from the past is from April 19, 1999. Our Late News column revealed that a 30-minute spot in the January 2000 Super Bowl would go for a cool $2 million -- a terrific bargain by today's standards, but a 25% leap from 1999. (In case you are wondering, the Rams beat the Tennessee Titans.)

In those free-wheeling, big-spending days for pharmaceuticals (remember them?) we reported that Pfizer's Viagra was introducing the category's first "frequent-buyer" program, awarding a seventh free prescription for six paid ones.

And then there was a recap of the 4A's annual meeting in South Beach eight months before the turn of the century. Our opening paragraph: "With a more optimistic outlook after several tough years, advertising agencies are bracing to deal with longer-term challenges, including how to redefine their business models to remain relevant strategic models for advertisers." It went on to paraphrase a talk by WPP's Martin Sorrell: "His clearest message was that the business needs to accept that media advertising is just one part of the broader marketing-services world in which such disciplines as market research, direct and interactive are growing at a faster rate."

Sound familiar?

Contributing: Michelle Dopp

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