Primal Urges, Corporate Profits and the Need to Understand What Makes Us Tick In 1947, Fortune magazine ran an article on the perennial advertising agency, J. Walter Thompson Company, which bears the namesake of its founder. The article stated that the primary cultural function of advertising was “the creation of new and daring, but fulfillable (sic), consumer demands; demands that would not occur if advertising did not deliberately incite them. ” (Frank, pg.49)Order now
Since that time, advertising has become somewhat more of a cultural barometer to measure and forecast trends and behavior patterns. Yet underlying it all, no matter what school of thought you subscribe to in this classic “chicken and egg” argument, is advertising’s fundamental need to understanding human nature in order to be successful. And because success is typically measured in sales, the populist view of advertising’s role becomes irrelevant as long as advertising remains an investment for the corporate sponsors, not a liability.
Underscoring human nature is the sum of our behaviors, thoughts and beliefs, which are by definition what makes up part of our culture. In addition, our incendiary disposition has sparked much debate and verve for many things political, religious and in terms of advertising’s influence, fiscal. This is perhaps why the process of making an effective ad becomes more a discipline of psychology than one of qualitative or quantitative science. Intuition is impossible to measure, and even harder to diagram on a pie chart.
A serendipitous concept idea, borne at two o’clock in the morning, may launch a windfall and a career. By contrast, using focus groups to test ad campaigns can sterilize an idea reducing it to mediocrity. Whereas an ad that stems from a brilliant idea, masterfully crafted, moves us as a form of art might. Matter of fact, it was this concept of raising advertising to an art form, with a newly found respect for the consumer that made ads developed during the Creative Revolution in the 1960’s so endearing and enduring. Again, Bill Bernbach imparts his wisdom,
At the heart of an effective creative philosophy is the belief that nothing so powerful as an insight into human nature, what compulsions drive a man, what instincts dominate his action, even though his language so often camouflages what really motivates him. (Bill Bernbach) Bernbach knew that Americans, especially at the start of the 1960’s, were inherently conservative and logical in the buying process. And he also knew the power of emotion conveyed in advertising could cut through all the superficiality. However, all the emotion in an ad was wasted if it was saying something that was not important, persuasive and credible.
The key, Bernbach asserted, was listening to the consumer. And in order to listen, one had to know what touched and moved people. Gimmicks and cute slogans gave way to enduring product truths that found their humanity by fulfilling our unspoken needs and desires. The tame and sedate culture of the 1950’s was evident in its ads. Conversely, the 1960’s gave way to empowered ad copy that reflected the move away from inhibitions and societal constraints. Slogans such as “You’ve Come a Long Way Baby” stemmed from the burgeoning Women’s movement (Bond & Kirshenbaum, pg.66), while earlier ads focused on a woman’s strive for domestic bliss.
For instance, an ad seen in Life Magazine, circa 1949 for Hoover vacuums begins with the headline “She would like one of these for Christmas” and goes on to tell the reader “She’ll be happier with a Hoover ? so make her happier this Christmas” (LIFE, pg. 137). The headlines have changed over the years, yet they still remain small tokens of how we measure worth and success. Conclusion Like opening a time capsule, one might be able to infer many of our idiosyncrasies and buying habits just by skimming the ads in a single issue of LOOK or LIFE magazine.
Our culture was distilled down to simple visuals and a few key words whose lasting impact defies the most logical of explanations. From the specter of nuclear war conveyed in President Lyndon Johnson’s famous 1964 “Daisy Girl” commercial, to the durability of the Golden Arches, Americans began to experience the power of brand as precursor to the coming Information Age. The culture we see around us today has largely been built by a marketing machine that thrives on branding almost every visible space of real estate.
From Coke? and Pepsi?in the halls of our schools, to the latest blockbuster movie tie-in, we are, at best, pushing our own limits of information overload. Marshall McLuhan’s “medium” has seemingly become both infinite and indefatigable. Marshall McLuhan’s seminal work on mass media, developed during his career as an educator and communications theorist, brought phrases such as “global village” and “the medium is the message” into the vernacular of everyday life. In closing, his following quote sums up advertising’s influence on our culture succinctly, requiring no further comment.
Historians and archeologists will one day discover that the ads of our time are the richest and most faithful daily reflections any society ever made of it’s whole range of activities. (Marshall McLuhan)
Works Cited Books Frank, Thomas, The Conquest of Cool Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1997 Bond, Jonathan ; Kirshenbaum, Richard, Under the Radar-Talking to Today’s Cynical Consumer John Wiley & Sons, Inc. 1998 Sullivan, Luke, Hey Whipple, Squeeze This-A Guide to Creating Great Ads John Wiley & Sons, Inc. 1998 Belch, George & Belch, Michael, Introduction to Advertising and Promotion-An Integrated Marketing Communications Perspective.
Zwettler, Rob, Second Edition, Richard D. Irwin, Inc. , 1993 Online/Internet The Advertising Century, Klein, David-Group Editor, Donaton, Scott-Editor Advertising Age, downloaded: 23 October 2001, <http://adage. com/century/people/people001. html> The CLIO Awards Web Site (site no longer carries the link of the original documents downloaded in 2001) <http://www. clioawards. com/html/main. isx> Merriam-Webster Online Downloaded: 4 April 2002, <http://www. m-w. com/cgi-bin/dictionary> Dictionary. com Downloaded: 4 April 2002, <http://www. dictionary. com/search? q=culture> Periodicals LIFE, 5 December 1949: page 137.