Wednesday, March 09, 2016

The Arc of American Advertising

As a leading edge member of the baby boom generation, I've been witness to how the dominant themes of advertising have changed over the course of my long (I'll be 70 in a week and a half) life. It has followed an arc largely defined by my "pig in the python" generation, though with some deviations aimed at older and younger cohorts. Here are my observations:

1950s to mid 1960s: ads were aimed at my parents' ("The Greatest") generation. The basic theme was, "If you use our product, your family will adore you, and your neighbors will turn green with envy."

Late 1960s through early 1970s: my generation reached puberty and beyond. Ad message: "If you use our product, you will be attractive to the opposite sex, and maybe even get laid" (or, if you don't, vice versa).  There was an undertone of "If you use our competitors' products, you will be perceived as queer." (I'm thinking of Camel Filters ads circa 1970-71: "Do you have any of those oval cigarettes?")

Late 1970s through 1980s: my generation graduated, got jobs, got married, got kids, got mortgages. Ad message: "If you don't use our product, you will fail in your career." (Think of the Hertz "Not Exactly" ads: "'Still expecting that promotion, Jones?' 'Not exactly.'")

1990s: "If you use our product, you will prosper and enjoy a comfortable retirement, and your car will make neighbors and old friends turn green with envy."

Today: "If you use our product, your digestive system will function properly, and you can still get laid (but watch out for those side effects)."