Monday, October 18, 2010 at 7:00 AM

When we're not out scanning and subsequently trying to read all the world's books, some of us on the Google Books team actually like to watch television. So it is with some remorse that we watched Sunday's season finale of Mad Men, AMC's hit drama about a 1960s advertising agency--which, if you live in the US and you haven't already heard of it or had someone in your life gush about it, you really should get out more.

Besides providing ample display of period costumes and vices (smoking, boozing, adultery) the show is satisfying for its novel examination of the world of advertising. In depicting the creative process of the fictional advertising agency Sterling Cooper Draper Price, Mad Men argues that the catchphrases and images used to sell us beer and cereal reveal deeper truths about who we are as a culture.

For some Ad Analysis 101, we harnessed the power of Google Magazine Search to look at some actual ads from 1964, the initial setting for the current season of Mad Men. These cultural artifacts hint at an American society on the brink of historical social change.

Lucky Strike

On the show, Don Draper and company struggle to market Lucky Strike cigarettes to a public increasingly aware of the hazards of smoking cigarettes. In this 1964 ad for the brand, one can see the transition away from previous means of marketing cigarettes. For example, compare the 1964 ad to this 1955 from LIFE:

In 1955, smoking Lucky Strike is for lovers. In 1964, smoking Lucky Strikes is for the well-versed cigarette connoisseurs. The 1964 ad emphasizes taste above all else with the word underlined and repeated four times. Rather than a couple enjoying the romantic ritual of lighting up, this later campaign includes just the image of an anonymous set of lips ready for tasting this "fine tobacco at its best."

By focusing in on the taste of cigarettes, perhaps the architects of the 1964 ad were speaking to a population already hooked on cigarettes. Whereas the earlier ad uses romantic imagery to attract new smokers, the later ad highlights the physical and gustatory sensation to an audience that is already craves them--even if scientists are starting to say they shouldn't.


In a Mad Men episode that some critics called the best of series, Don Draper and his ambitious protégé Peggy Olsen bicker over how best to compose a campaign for the the suitcase maker Samsonite. At one point Peggy presents an idea involving the celebrity endorsement of Joe Namath and cites the quarterback's good looks as an obvious selling point for women. Don rebuffs Peggy, saying, "Women don't buy suitcases." As the above two-page ad from LIFE clearly shows, the real ad men behind Samsonite's 1964 campaigns weren't so sure about that.

While the Samsonite Silhouette is "handsome, rugged and trim" for him, it's also
"an elegant summer traveler" for her. This split page ad suggests that advertisers were wary of alienating their male audience by focusing their energies on woman. But they were also growing increasingly aware of the power of marketing to female consumers.

Pepsi Generation

While the guys and gals of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce didn't pen any copy for Pepsi-Cola, this campaign from the soda giant justly belongs in this blog post in that it is part to the larger canon of 1960s iconic advertising. It was named by Advertising Age as one of the top ad campaigns of the century (#21 on the list of 100). This particular spot from a July 1964 issue of LIFE illustrates where advertisers were increasingly aiming their attentions: the young.

The copy reads: "The horizons of thinking young stretch across the land from sea to sea. The mood is healthy; the drink is Pepsi." The reference to the horizon and the literal one stretching out behind this contented, attractive California couple, echo the "New Frontier" of Kennedy's 1960 Inauguration. The ad capitalizes on the lingering hopefulness of a country about to be mired in a protracted war and a divisive national discussion that pitted old against young.

Pepsi's 1964 advertising also reveals the extent to which advertisers were awakening to the growing market of African Americans. This ad from an October 1964 Ebony provides an African American corollary to the otherwise white campaign found in most other magazines.

LBJ signed the Civil Rights Act into law only a few months before the publication of this particular ad, and the inclusive tone of "Come Alive! You're in the Pepsi Generation" links drinking Pepsi with integration. In this ad, they're not just selling soda, they're also selling promises of equality.

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We'll have to wait awhile for a return to the 1960s via the exploits of Don, Peggy and the rest, but the 60s--and many other historical periods--are alive and swinging in Google Magazine Search. To do your own investigation of historic advertising, you can search Google Magazine through the Advanced Search option. With fully searchable text, including the ads, you too can probe such weighty questions about meaning and identity--also, less weighty ones like this.


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