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From Mad Men to Modern Day: What the 60's Taught us About Advertising

In a time of shag carpet, psychedelic tie-dye, cult classic music and plaid button-down shirts, the 1960’s had its fair share of fast-paced moments. Transition to today, 2018 seems to be a whirlwind of continuously advanced technology invading our everyday routines. While nearly 6 decades separates these 2 time periods, there are still similarities that highlight how advertising has evolved from then until now.


Whether or not you were alive during the 60’s, it’s commonly known as an era when TV advertising most thrived. It was a ritual for families to watch the daily news together at night, huddled around their television sets in the family room of their house.

Advertising really started its major boom in popularity and effectiveness when brands felt they could turn Americans into loyal consumers by targeting their ads. The show Mad Men takes place during this time and highlights how things evolved during this captivating era of advertising.

As you can imagine, attention spans were much longer than they are today, and there was less competition for airtime between brands in the beginning. (AdWeek) There was also a lot of turmoil in both our country and the world during that time, so citizens were glued to their TV sets, radio or newspapers, relying on getting news updates. The audience was already there, now advertisers just had to work to focus on what markets would support brands.


The attention span of the average consumer in today’s day and age is approximately 8 seconds, which is 1 second shorter than a goldfish. (Microsoft) Is that shocking to you? I have seen in many other editorial pieces that it can be as little as 3 seconds when scrolling through a newsfeed on Facebook or Twitter.  With those statistics being a marketer’s new reality, we must work more efficiently and effectively to reach our target audience in the small window of time before people simply keep moving down the list to see what their friends posted that day.

2018 is a time of invasive technology.  While it is vital to note how technology has advanced us in positive ways, it’s also worth highlighting the overly abundant exposure to advertising that we face each day. 

Eugene Schwartz

Eugene was an advertising pioneer in his own right back in 1966, and he created his own theory about how to market successfully to consumers by noting how they would respond to various ads.  His theory is called “Levels of Awareness,” and it can be a tool for how marketers should reach their target markets in today’s technologically advanced world. (AdWeek

Levels of Awareness 

Do you ever live by a specific mantra or quote?  I do.  My mantra for nearly everything I do, both personally and professionally, is work smarter, not harder.  I’m someone who has to sometimes repeat that to myself when performing a task, but I like to try to streamline my work so that I’m not wasting time or resources in the process of getting to my goal.

Levels of Awareness is very similar to that mantra.  It’s the simple notion that we should be adapting to a consumer’s already established level of awareness so that we can craft a more compelling and effective conversion from them.  Work smarter, not harder. 

The three parts of the model that especially ring true to what marketers should be doing today are:

  • Lead with a story: It has been proven that humans are wired to love stories and storytelling alike. As a brand or company, you should make sure to display your story to your consumer base so that it evokes emotion and the desire to be a supporter of your product.  In 2018, the share button can do wonders but in order to get people who share your advertisement(s), connect those segmented pieces to the greater cause that they, and you, care about.
  • Retarget ads with emotional benefits: Story first, benefits second – that’s the key formula for this step. Retarget engaged consumers and lead your message towards speaking about the benefits your product may provide consumers. Today is all about making life even easier so how does your product enable consumers to do just that?
  • Continue to adapt your message: Utilize Facebook’s retargeting capabilities to get in front of your consumers in an effective manner. Provide different angles to consumers who care about your message the most.  Generational differences in what matters to those consumer bases should be highly taken into consideration before your brand presents its’ message. Remember, one message does not fit all, so you need to adapt accordingly to make it successful. 


It’s always easy to point out the differences between two periods of time that are 6 decades apart, but what is worthwhile and much more meaningful is to highlight the similarities. We sometimes believe that just because technology and our overall pace of life wasn’t the same back in 1966, that we couldn’t possibly gain insight or learn from lessons previous researchers have outlined for us in how we approach advertising in 2018.  Just because the external factors have changed dramatically since then, the common core of who we are as human beings has not.

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