Madison Avenue, 1940s–1960s

In this era of staid gray flannel suits, advertisers developed motivational research, grappled with television, and cooperated with government to promote American enterprise. Industry insiders, journalists, and the public criticized the crass and manipulative aspects of advertising. Firms began adding a few ethnic and racial minorities to their staffs. A creative revolution transformed advertising from conservative to hip, hokey to ironic.

Trends, 1940s–1960s

1942: The War Advertising Council put advertisers to work for the war effort.
1949: The War Advertising Council became the Advertising Council and shifted to peacetime messages.
1950s: TV made advertising more expensive and changed billing practices.
1950s: Gross advertising spending rose 75%, a greater increase than the GNP, personal income, or any other economic index.     
1952: CBS became the top advertising medium in the world.
1963: Coke and Pepsi launched the cola wars.
1964: Major magazines banned cigarette ads from print advertising.
1968: New York Commission on Human Rights held hearings into racial discrimination in radio and TV advertising. African Americans made up only 3.5% of ad agency employees.

Who spent the most on advertising?

Automakers, packaged food, soap makers, power companies, agriculture, and distillers.

Top spenders in 1955:

  • General Motors
  • Procter & Gamble
  • General Foods
  • Ford Motor Company
  • Chrysler


Top spenders in 1965:

  • Procter & Gamble
  • General Motors
  • General Foods
  • Ford Motor Company
  • Bristol-Myers Company


Where was advertising?

Television, radio, movies, magazines, comic books, billboards, direct mail, packaging, buildings, newspapers.     

Who made advertising?

Creative teams of copywriters and artists.  African Americans and Latinos working in “special markets” departments and in new agencies that studied racial and ethnic minorities and how to sell to them.

Crossing the Color Line

African Americans began working in “special market” divisions of agencies in the 1940s and 1950s, advising advertisers on ways to reach the black middle-class. By the 1960s, agencies run by African Americans and Latinos began serving regional and ethnic markets. These pioneer advertisers changed the look and feel of advertising, with positive representations of ethnic consumers.

Pepsi marketing meeting in Washington, D.C., 1950s

Pepsi marketing meeting in Washington, D.C., 1950s

Zebra Employees, about 1969

Zebra Employees, about 1969

Joan Murray and Raymond League opened Zebra in 1969, one of the first black-owned, integrated ad agencies in the United States.

Television

Ad agencies and broadcasters wrestled for control of advertising time and programming on television. In the early years, advertisers sponsored whole shows, as they did with radio. But by 1959, they had lost control to networks, which sold advertising time in segments, creating a multi-sponsor format. TV ads evolved with the creative revolution and the civil rights movement, embracing hip consumerism and incorporating more underrepresented consumers.

Filming a Kraft television commercial, 1950s

Filming a Kraft television commercial, 1950s

The Creative Revolution

The creative revolution, which embraced counter-cultural movements and youthfulness, valued creativity over market research. Creative ads were irreverent, ironic, and sometimes difficult to decipher. Agencies formed creative teams of copywriters and artists who worked together and measured their success based on creativity as well as selling power.

Advertiser David Ogilvy with two of his creations: the Man in the Hathaway Shirt and Commander Whitehead, spokesperson for Schweppes, about 1960

Advertiser David Ogilvy with two of his creations: the Man in the Hathaway Shirt and Commander Whitehead, spokesperson for Schweppes, about 1960

Courtesy of Ogilvy & Mather

Walter Landor

Walter Landor

Packaging designer Walter Landor encouraged creativity by inviting artists and writers to staff parties aboard the Klamath, the floating offices of Landor and Associates in San Francisco.

“Packages must speak for themselves.”

Walter Landor, 1956

Bill Bernbach

Bill Bernbach

Tired of formulaic advertising, William “Bill” Bernbach started DDB in 1949, with Ned Doyle and Maxwell Dane. Their work ignited a creative revolution that proved that artistry and quirky copy could sell goods.

Courtesy of DDB Worldwide

Ohrbach’s Department Store ad, 1958

Ohrbach’s Department Store ad, 1958

This catty ad got readers to take notice and think of Ohrbach’s as chic.

Courtesy of DDB Worldwide