Until the late 1950s, American advertising had been plagued by work that the writer Aldous Huxley referred to as possessing “a moderate excellence ... not too good, but sufficiently striking.” In other words, these ads weren’t bad, just acceptable; they were mediocre despite the awards they won. But then in the 60s came the so-called “Creative Revolution,” helmed by a new breed of daring Jewish, Italian, and Greek American art directors. Armed with artistic intelligence, conceptual sophistication and theatrical flair, they were gung-ho about going head-to-head with the industry’s white, Anglo-Saxon old guard. And their work paid off.
The 1960s was a period informed by the Civil Rights movement, the burgeoning women’s liberation movement, the Vietnam War, and other shifts during the turbulent, roller-coaster decade that altered America forever. These changes also served as the underpinning for some of the best ad men of the time. But by the 1970s, the “big idea” creative agencies were winning their share of awards and accolades too, for commercials that won over print and TV audiences with their wit, not just their sales pitches.
But what set the 70s apart from the previous decade? After all, much of the ad work done in the 70s drew from the same cleverness and creativity that first sprang up in the 60s—a time when unconventional became memorable, and memorable meant capturing a substantial market share of hearts and minds.