5 Things Marketing in the 50s & 60s Can Teach Digital Marketers

Marketing has been around for a long time, as a practice it has evolved very little.  The biggest changes that drove innovation were perhaps the invention of the printing press, radio, TV and internet. Each new channel bringing new capabilities and ways in which brands and companies could connect with an audience.  The 1950s and 1960s are perceived as the golden age of advertising.  In many ways however marketing and the challenges of marketers hasn’t changed much, but I do see a new golden age which we are in the middle of right now. One that can teach us about:

  1. Multi-channel, multi-device marketing
  2. Native Advertising
  3. Segmentation
  4. Direct Response
  5. Content Marketing

A Multi-Channel, Cross Device World

The transistor radio was invented in 1954 making radios more portable, the CRT TV was significantly improved in 1950 and newspaper readership was at an all time high in 1950. The ability to get access to the consumer was a multi channel, cross-platform world unlike any ever before it.

The accessibility to entertainment, to news, to information was changing radically.  As much as Mad Men romanticized the ad agency of the 1960s, it is easy to see why it would have been an exciting time to be involved in Madison Avenue firms, and marketers were trying to figure out which medium was the most effective way of hitting their audiences.  Print was the biggest channel, but Radio and TV were slowly gaining steam, and with the invention of transistor radios, it was possible to have a radio in every room.  Marketers were experimenting with the cutting edge technology of the time, and even then trying to develop improved analytics such as Day-After-Recall.

Take this world and change it to PC, Tablet, Phone.  Add in TV, Print and Radio and you can see how we’re in a new golden age to get creative with how we approach marketing, the digital age of marketing is maybe 15 years old, only starting to build critical mass in the last 10 years or so. Digital marketing spend will surpass TV spend this year, signalling the end of the age of analogue marketing and the rise of digital marketing as the primary channel, but this doesn’t mean that digital has reached maturity.

We’re just now solving how to measure and understand the nature and use of multiple digital devices and how they interact with each other, how consumers use the devices and nuances of how to market across each device, yet marketing mix models are nothing new.  The multi-channel, multi-device world isn’t a new challenge it’s not a new phenomenon it’s the replacement of an old challenge and the nature of people consuming content in a variety of ways. Learning how marketers of the past managed their channel marketing might help digital marketers how to better drive targeted messages.

Native Advertising

The hottest topic for advertising, particularly those in the business of display advertising and concerned about adblockers has been the discussion of native advertising and it’s place in the modern marketer’s arsenal; and by modern I mean marketing in 1950.  A time when sponsors were integrated into the content of the show.  Stars would address the audience and let you know exactly who was footing the bill for the fantastic show you were watching, and product placement was an extension of this.

As TV evolved the formal commercial replaced sponsored advertising in the show as it became too expensive for a single brand to sponsor a whole show, but in 1965 Coca-Cola gave us Charlie Brown’s Christmas Special and this is but one example of how advertising supported entertainment, so much so that the Coke brand was incorporated into the final credits and legends exist about it’s deep integration into the actual content of the show.


Today as ad suppliers look to maintain revenue, and offer new channels to marketers they’re reverting back to sponsored content that is integrated and appearing as part of the natural overall experience of the consumer. There are lessons to be learned from what messages and content worked the best from our past that we can apply to the new digital channels and native ads being created.

These lessons can be learned by advertisers and marketers alike.  The relationship between buying and selling advertising space becomes much more harmonic, in which your brand is a reflection of the content it is presented with as much as the content is a representation of the brands it associates with.  The more the line between advertising and content blurs the harder it becomes for the consumer to distinguish the difference of where one starts and the other begins.  This means brand is more important than ever when considering the nature of the approach you take to native advertising.


Good advertising is written from one person to another. When it is aimed at millions it rarely moves anyone.

~ Fairfax M. Cone

Marketers of the 1960s began to understand the rise of the mom, and the female perspective of the world changing around them.  As much as we might look at many ads from the 50s and 60s and cringe, the reality is that advertising is also a reflection of the time.  Ads began to speak directly to the woman of the household, yes they may have pandered to her role as the housewife, but they were targeted and clearly segmented in where the ads would appear.


This is a terrible Ad… but you get the point…

Segmentation and targeting has been the nirvana for marketers for a very long time, digital has enabled the ability to drive hyper segmentation.  The ability to track and target at an individual level, to understand not only the segment but the effectiveness of your marketing by segmentation, has enabled marketers to iterate faster through messaging than ever before, but the thinking is still the same, in which you identify, target and communicate messages to the buying audience.

It also becomes more important than ever to truly know your audience.  To not make assumptions about who is buying your product.  A marketer that isn’t willing to pickup the phone and talk to a customer isn’t a marketer these days.  Great marketers make the time to connect and listen to actual customers.  They do field research, and sit with call center agents, and have open conversations with both happy and dissatisfied customers.  Know your customer, know your audience.

Direct Response

Something funny happened along the way to the digital age of marketing.  We forgot that the purpose of marketing is to sell.  It seems like marketers got more caught up in the sizzle and and sexiness “Brand Marketing” became more important and the go to for many marketers through the 80s and 90s.  Go back and look at some of the older advertising from the 50’s and 60’s and you’ll see a couple trends in the most effective marketing.  The best marketing had clear call to actions.  They would say “It’s good, go on out and buy it”.  Advertisment had a simplicity and clarity to it that you understood the product, and that you needed to go get it.

When I write an advertisement, I don’t want you to tell me that you find it ‘creative.’ I want you to find it so interesting that you buy the product.

~ David Ogilvy

Then we started to see TV commercial director’s breaking out into feature film directors (Ridley Scott, David Fincher, and Michael Bay to name a few), and marketers started to focus on winning awards such as a Cannes Lion Award, but if awards were given out for effectiveness we’d likely see a very different set of winners.

Digital marketers are focusing again on performance first due to the highly measurable nature of digital channels, but I see a rise of the need to drive lead nurturing, without marketers understanding what that really means, which is: “to get a consumer to buy as soon as they are ready to make the purchase and ensure you are the top choice in that decision”.  Lead nurturing is not a continued set of emails to stay connected with the customer, great lead nurturing serves a purpose.  It should be there to drive attach, cross-sell, and advocacy.  Don’t let lead nurturing become the brand marketing of the modern day. Marketing needs to become purposeful again, and I believe that marketing analytics will help drive this, as it drives accountable marketing.

Content Marketing

Today we have content marketing to power and drive our SEO efforts, but before there were search engines there were ads like this:

1950 GMC Truck Ad-01

We have social proofs in it, we have rich text.  Imagery that shows the product in use.  Product research and features.  The point is, that content marketing of today is forgetting the most important audience, the reader.

Marketing ads for a long time had contained masses of text that made the copy writer the most important contributor to the ad.  Then marketing made a shift to a “show-don’t-tell” approach.  This changed how content and ads were created.  Moving to bolder imagery and less copy, which translated and still does in many ways translate to different websites.

Digital marketers however have one extra advantage, they can incorporate text, imagery and video into their content to create truly rich multi-content experiences in a single engagement.  I think if there is one thing to learn it’s that multi-content single-experience delivery is the next stage of marketing and advertising.

Marketing Like it’s 1950

Having developed my career as a digital marketer from the very beginning, I have had the opportunity to explore mass media and traditional tactics across different points of my career always leading digital first, and what I have learned is there are still many things digital marketers can learn from traditional marketing.

Digital marketing is not a reinvention of marketing, it’s an evolution and devolution at the same time.  As we relearn how the multi-channel multi-device worlds connect, as we relearn how to be direct and communicate to our customers.  Marketing has moved forward in terms of technology; but in terms of strategy there is much to be learned from our past.  Ogilvy on Advertising is as relevant a read today as it was when it was published in 1985 where it reflected upon the heyday of ad agencies as well as the at the time current trends and changes occurring in advertising. As excited as we are about the future of digital marketing  take a moment and reflect on what has come before, there’s no need to reinvent what was already invented.



Click to Enlarge


  1. Numerous people directly and indirectly listen to radio, television and live
    program presentations many times a month. SEO is
    an abbreviation for ‘search engine optimization’.

    The content is going to count more than the design.
    From the standpoint of search engine optimization, the single most important sentence on any web page is
    the title tag. Ensure that the business you hire delivers fantastic and quick within lowest possible expense.
    With its long-term standings, you can think of a
    more good marketing strategy in order for your customers to remember your

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.