Sep 21, 2011

A trip back to 1965

If you’re in the marketing business (or the business of marketing), you ought to occasionally look at the past to see a reflection of the future.  I happen to own a copy of Life magazine, May 28 1965.  Can’t remember why I got it – I would have been a toddler at the time it was originally printed.  I suspect it was acquired from one of those funny little shops you find in most towns that stock old books, vintage magazines, and old Coca Cola bottles on the shelves, complete with a layer of dust and a smell of Grandma’s sitting room.

As you leaf through the pages, you pass stories of the newly dedicated JFK memorial at Runnymeade in England, John Lindsay running for Mayor of NYC, and a photo of Ringo Starr on the set of Help!.  Given the advertising: editorial ratio (about 3:1), you invariably are drawn to the various ads and promotions.  Kellogg’s cereals offering the princely sum of 25 cents back as a mail in for two proofs of purchase.  If ever there was a demonstration of the impact of inflation, that shows it!  There’s also double page spreads for Kodak film, the cost of which then would probably equate to today’s global sales of all non-digital cameras and films.  Chrysler offering the unheard of “5-year, 50,000 miles warranty on engines and drive trains”.  And Parker pens with a new product designed for “girl-size hands” which “writes as long as our man-size Jotter”.  Gloria Steinem would have had a field day with that one, except she was still trying to get work following her ‘journalist posing as a Playboy bunny’ days.

Yet what is particularly interesting when you look at old magazines are the brands that survived … and those that didn’t.  From this issue, our survivor list includes Hanes, Contac cold relief, Clairol, Mobil (albeit now Exxon Mobil), Prudential, Carnation instant breakfast (did we, and do we, still buy the notion that one glass equates to two eggs, two strips of bacon, two slices toast and fresh orange juice?), and Canada Dry Ginger Ale.  Many brands featured - Libbie’s sloppy joe sauce, Heublein cocktails, Champale ale - were over time swallowed up by other companies.  And many have disappeared from the US, only to reappear today, like Fiat … albeit at a bit more than $1262 list price for the 600D. 

What separates those that are still with us and afforded national marketing support, and those which fell down and fell prey to acquisition, merger, second tier brand status, and/or discontinuation?  Each brand has a story to tell, a history rich with triumphs and failures, which no doubt someone somewhere may still know.  For example, what befell the Gibson refrigerator company?  In Life,  Gibson had a tip in promotion called the “Frost Clear Sweepstakes” offering 5000 prizes valued at over $1,000,000.  Nice job of working a product benefit into a theme, by the way.  It’s now owned by Electrolux, and doesn’t seem to have much marketing support despite a heritage dating back to 1877.  Did some distributor pull the plug, leading to the Electrolux acquisition?  Did a brand manager push a product innovation which failed?  Did the Marketing Director stick with the turd brown color when lime green became the rage?  Or did one of the winners of 100 VIP jet vacations on Pan Am to Puerto Rico get sunburn and sue the company who had failed to take out insurance against such promotional mishaps?

Yet what is also fascinating about this edition is an ad for Encyclopedia Americana.  This brand is still with us today, owned by Scholastic and moved more on-line for its sales rather than strictly print.  What caught my eye was the body copy in the ad for their encyclopedias, which is about as future proof as you can get:

“The question is, how to make those facts interesting and meaningful and memorable – and worth staying awake for.  We do it by hiring a whole faculty of writer-teachers who are not only experts on their subjects but who know how to tell a good story, too.” 

Remember, this is 1965 we’re talking about here.  Yet in that simple line of copy we see what today many 1000’s of digital agencies, content producers, social media experts, and brands are all saying over and over again, as if it were something innovative.  Americana understood then that to sell an encyclopedia, people had a desire to further their knowledge (or their kids knowledge), but wanted to be engaged while doing so.  Facts by themselves are in the short term interesting, but quickly lose their saliency unless weaved into a broader story.

Like I said, you can learn a lot by looking backwards to look forwards. 
Almost makes me want to buy the Marlin by Rambler (part of AMC), with it’s 327 cu.-in. V-8, power disc brakes, and, hold onto your hats, adjustable reclining front seats as standard.  This was the car from his youth which Mitt Romney bemoaned during his gubernatorial campaign in 2002 as being “kinda awful” and his wife described as “goofy looking”.  Interesting that Romney didn’t mention his father’s occupation at the time he had the Marlin:  Chairman and CEO of AMC.


  1. Sorry, Paul. You lost me at the "man-size Jotter."

  2. History repeats itself. The human condition. It's just accelerating now due to technology. Nice blog post.