But the ensuing decade was a period of great change for the industry. The style of ads and the culture at large shifted dramatically between 1960 and 1971. That shift wasn't instant and it wasn't universal, but the ads below show the broad arc of the Mad Men era. It was a time when the only consistent creative directive was reinvention.
Advertising began the 1960s as an industry on the rise. As recalled in The Mirror Makers: A History of American Advertising and Its Creators, US ad agency billings had increased from $53 million in 1945 to $212 million in 1960. The ads were successful, but conservative: they relied on illustration, a lot of copy, and direct sales pitches.
As early as 1961, it's possible to see how ads would change in the '60s — photography was coming into vogue, and art directors toyed with more experimental imagery, using unique angles and more vivid settings. As quoted in Adland: A Global History of Advertising, there was a consistent tension between making ads that were blunt instruments for commerce and crafting ones that could rise to something greater. "Advertising began as an art," Rosser Reeves wrote, "and many advertising men want it to stay that way."
Mad men like David Ogilvy led the charge to adapt ads to the culture at large. As quoted in 1962 in The Mirror Makers, he knew ads had to change with the times. "As a practitioner of advertising, I believe it is nothing more than a tool of salesmanship, which follows mores but never leads them."
In 1963 came the publication of Ogilvy's Confessions of an Advertising Man. The book sold more than 1 million copies and, more importantly, showed that the Mad men had taken over.
The style of their ads was changing too. Illustrations continued to fade from ads in favor of photos that captured the modern feel of the 1960s.
Along with creative evolution, the wider advertising landscape was changing too. Revolutionary television ads used new techniques to sell products — and get votes.
More than just a new political ad, the "Daisy" ad represented the confidence of an industry that was ready to reach consumers in new ways.
In 1965, Madison Avenue saw what The Mirror Makers identifies as "the creative revolution." Creative superstars were in style, and it showed in ads that pushed boundaries. Ads were willing to be casual, contemporary in style, and even sexy.
By 1966, the creative revolution was in full swing — and the '60s were, too. Advertising changed in response, both in content and behind the scenes. Leaders like Mary Wells Lawrence broke ground in a traditionally male industry.
All that led to ads that featured new types of models (albeit sparingly), higher-concept hooks, and imagery that challenged the viewer to interpret it.
By 1967, advertising wasn't just an art but a calling. As told in Adland, mastermind Leo Burnett told his troops he wanted his name removed from the company door "when you lose your passion for thoroughness."
Meanwhile, some of the design trends that first emerged in the early '60s became harder to ignore: representational illustration was almost gone, and the copy had shrunk. Seismic cultural changes were increasingly showing up in the work.
By 1968, the United States and world were being rocked by big changes such as Vietnam, riots in France, and the hippie movement. Ads responded by incorporating (or stealing) from the cultural zeitgeist, using hippie imagery to sell stuff like deodorant.
Sometimes it meant adapting to trends:
And sometimes it meant making different ads for different markets:
In 1969, there were plenty of ads without flower power — but there were plenty with it, too. Where the hippie sensibility didn't rule, minimalism did. Ad style had definitively moved beyond the text-heavy sales of the early '60s in favor of impressionistic ads that conveyed emotions, not just attributes of a product.
There were changes in the industry, too — The Mirror Makers states that minority employment at big agencies had climbed to 10 percent, the tobacco industry was losing ad support, and women continued to rise through the ranks.
As the 1970s began, the advertising industry had seen massive growth. According to The Mirror Makers, the top 10 agencies went from $1.6 billion in billings in 1960 to $2.68 billion in 1970.
But advertising changed more than just financially. Ads had become brighter, savvier, and more visual. They also fit the modern culture. Don Draper's personal style may have stayed the same throughout Mad Men, but the real Madison avenue remade itself. The Mad men of 1960 wouldn't have recognized the ads of 1970 — and that's just the way they wanted it.
It got them through the '60s. And it worked pretty well in the '70s, too.
- Photos via Creative Commons: SenseiAlan, alsis35, JPCurio, and Classicfilm
- Editor: Brad Plumer
- Developer: Yuri Victor