Dwelling on Selling

May 26, 2009

I can get sucked into You Tube for hours, watching old TV commercials. The difference between how products were sold back in the day vs. now is fascinating to me. For one thing, there was an assumption in the old days that people would watch your slow-moving 60-second spot from start to finish.

There was very little irreverence in the presentation — characters in the ads were earnest, crisply dressed and well-groomed, and the announcers were chosen for their mellifluous voices.

A subset of vintage ads that never fail to grab me are the cigarette ads. They often made use of famous people: Steve McQueen, the Beverly Hillbillies, various pro athletes — even Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble. Imagine Big Bird and Kermit the Frog plugging Crown Royal, and you get the idea.

Still, there’s an innocence and earnestness about the old ads that make them appealing. The suspicions of advertising as mind control — the “hidden persuaders” — had already been well-explored by this time, and in their day, these ads were viewed by many as the product of crafty, tricky “Mad Men” out to tap America’s unconcscious for profit.

But by today’s standards, they look awfully tame and benign.