The creative revolution in advertising in the 1960s came as a direct response to the mass culture critique that was infinitely prominent with youth at the time.  People were increasingly and openly unhappy with consumer culture.  The real problem critics of mass consumerist culture had was that all people were becoming drones mindlessly buying the same cookie cutter suburban products in hopes of bettering themselves by it.  The new idea was to consciously consume, consume in a way that speaks to your individual tastes not those that are shoved down our throats by traditional advertising and popular culture.  Ironically enough at this point in industrial society consumption of mass produced goods is essentially inescapable, thus this individuality that people were seeking in reality did not and does not exist.  By refusing to conform to ‘mass culture’ people began to align themselves with different cultural groups, which most of the time were counter-hegemonic.  In order to adapt to this shift in consumer preferences advertising had to make a dramatic change in how they positioned products, thus how they did business.

Bill Bernbach is often considered the father of this creative revolution in advertising.  He saw advertising as an art rather than a science and embraced the social critique of mass culture in advertising and saw this shift coming from a mile away.  Bernbach addressed consumers as the individuals they desperately desired to be, in this way advertising embraced the shift towards embracing counter cultures that were developing.  His most famous campaigns, arguably the most famous campaigns of all time, were for Volkswagen and Avis.  In these brilliant ads each was positioning against the widely popular competing brands as the underdog.  The campaigns were self-deprecating, which frightened the brands at first, but in this way they spoke to the prominent ant-mass culture ideology that was developing.  These ads, for the first time, spoke to the consumer as intelligent individuals rather than mindless consumers.

Volkswagen campaigns were a huge response to the new public discontent with large automobile manufacturers.  “Americans learned that the big three automakers changed styles every year in order to intentionally obsolete their earlier products”, thus all information pointed to the idea that consumer culture “was a gigantic fraud” ( 62).  Advertisers of the creative revolution saw this discontent and spoke to the consumers in a way to make them aware these brands, like Volkswagen, were on the same page.  They knew what consumers now know and wanted to speak to them as part of an exclusive knowledge.  These advertisers weren’t rejecting consumer culture, but promoting a different kind of consumption.  They promoted the idea that you don’t want to be like ‘them’, you’re too smart to fall for that, go with the uncommon, be an individual.   Avis and Volkswagen ads were honest, which contributed majorly to their success.  In order to speak to consumers as intelligent individuals they needed to disown the strategies of the 50s.  By being honest and using plain talk they were able to disown the extreme puffery that consumers hated about the 50s, as if to say to consumers ‘we know that you can see through puffery.’

One of the most iconic ads of Bernbach’s to me is the Avis “We’re #2.”  The most striking to me is that the ad speaks brilliantly about positives of not being the best, where as previous ads would only construe the truth to assert themselves as the best.  Samsung Galaxy III TV commercials have a similar effect.  They don’t go on claiming that they are the most popular with American culture, or use distracting visually pleasing ads like Apple to focus on the brand’s personality, but they do however brilliantly position their phone-users as more intelligent than Apple users with the parody in the commercial.  They hilariously position Apple consumers as the ‘mindless drones’ that people hated in the 50s.  They also play on the idea of people falling into the same trap that automobile consumers were duped by in the 50s calling attention to the miniscule product changes that came about with each new version.  They spoke to their consumers as too smart to fall for the Apple mystification.

I have to admit as a Samsung phone user I felt a great alliance with the ad.  My roommate and I who both have Samsung phones died laughing at the iPhone users in the room with us who patiently awaited features that our phones had for almost a year already.  It’s as if they were saying, yeah we know you’re ahead of the curve and you get it, but we’re going to make this commercial to make sure those who don’t get it know they are on the outside.  The ad positions Samsung users in America who are often seen as on the outside because they aren’t part of the iPhone culture as exclusive.  The Samsung users are positioned against mass culture playing on the exact same ideals of the mass culture critique in the 60s.  It’s pretty clear that Bernbach’s innovations in advertising are still relevant strategies utilized today.

Advertisements