The art of persuasion | vintage marketing campaigns

vintage marketing campaigns

February 18, 1972

We’ve talked about the power of advertising in previous posts and thanks to the popularity of Mad Men, old school advertising has taken on a mythical aura. But even with all my research into vintage marketing campaigns, I found myself surprised while I was reading this article on the Smithsonian Magazine site. Check out the massive block of copy on the antique Wheaties advertisement! In our modern world where it’s all about catering to an audience with a short attention span, the only time I notice an abundance of words is when I’m muting the side effect listings on a pharmaceutical commercial.

This Wheaties ad reminded me that even though many advertising fundamentals are timeless (like a catchy tagline or a celebrity endorsement), some of the habits from yesteryear might be primed for a comeback. (Let me know what you think in the comments!) For example, while the product was king of early advertising efforts, modern ads are focused less on the product and more on the buyer. Thanks to our digital footprints, companies are able to personalize advertising experiences in ways that were unfathomable just a decade ago. But all of this targeting is also fueling a growing privacy movement. Will advertisers be able to maximize on a plethora of analytics or will we see a renaissance of product-centric campaigns?

If we break-down this Wheaties ad we see a banner at the top proudly displaying the product name with a clear pitch/tagline. We know right off the bat why we should buy Wheaties during our next grocery run. As our eyes scan down the rest of the page, any lingering doubts melt away. First there is a striking picture of the spokesman, giving us tangible proof of the Wheaties’ claim. Beside him is a teaser – a stanza that gives us an easy-to-digest level of data. We’re starting to feel more comfortable, but then there’s one more hook placed atop a mountain of supporting evidence. The Wheaties name is mentioned a whopping eight times in this final push of persuasion. As a potential buyer we’ve just been on a trust-building exercise meant to familiarize ourselves with this great brand. This ad addressed every type of consumer – those swayed by big names, the health-conscious, the people who watched their budget, the cynic, and the foodie. In contrast, modern ads aim to capture us at a glance with minimal wording and maximum visual appeal. Advertisers assume that savvy shoppers have many other resources to lean on for research purposes, so the ad can be the flashy tipping point leading a shopper to buy their product. As more and more companies realize the benefits behind transparency, will we see a return to insightful advertisements?

While no one can predict the future, as any fellow vintage enthusiast will tell you – trends are cyclical. Take a peek at these advertisements found in the Life magazine archives. Each one is taken about a decade apart. Watch how the volume of copy adjusts and consider the social context for each of these time periods. With the seismic impact of 2020, I wonder how marketing campaigns will meet the moment and if they’ll be digging into the archives for inspiration…

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