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The television was by far one of the greatest cultural phenomenons in the U.S. during the 20th century. The television brought families and friends together over shared interests in shows and advertisements. As TV ushered in a fascinating “golden era of advertising,” Americans bonded over products they saw advertised between their favorite shows. They talked about the newest toys, candy bars and cars. They experienced what advertisers named “consumer anxiety,” and the retail market soared as families turned shopping trips into fun excursions. TV advertisements celebrated the lifestyle of the average American family, and in turn, boosted success for all parties involved. But what was it about television content to which responded people so passionately? Besides the fact that it was new and fascinating technology, what were TV show creators and advertisers thinking, claiming and doing that made consumers change the very way they lived?
In the 1950s, advertising executives tailored their content to the people sitting in front of the TV – at any given night, at any given hour. The “golden era of advertising” was supported by post-war prosperity. Given that information, advertisers took a magnifying glass to the people who “needed” their products. Many men and women at home watching TV with their kids were from eras in which they either had nothing (the Great Depression) or when they had to ration what they did have (WWII). Therefore, advertisers had to get through to an audience that didn’t subconsciously put consumerism on a pedestal. To do that, advertisers created a version of the American dream, tailoring each piece of content to show TV watchers what a different and possibly better lifestyle they could achieve by investing in the advertised products or services. This concept is still used in todays content and media – but in a much more individual, customized manner.
Since TV was so new in the 1950s, television shows and the commercials that supported them were comparable to nothing else. Radio and print ads had nothing on the cheery, in-your-face lifestyle shows and ads of television. The content that was being created was brand new and generally full of experimental techniques that were only loosely based on the advertising approaches of times past. These experimental marketing tactics involved catchy jingles, memorable slogans, reliable testimonials and the onset of subliminal advertising. Today, none of the above procedures are “experimental,” but they support the idea that creative and innovative marketing will always have an audience.
As it applies to television, TV show creators and marketers understood what was being sought after at the movies – people wanted to see glamour, they wanted an escape, and they wanted adventure. TV shows did not become “mini movies” then – they became fast entertainment with the same underlying principles, dreams and concerns as the people had who that were watching them. TV show creators knew that watchers always wanted the “bad guy” to lose. They knew that kids wanted heroes and teenagers wanted rock ‘n’ roll. Subsequently, the content they delivered met these needs and fulfilled these dreams.
The idea of “knowing your audience” to deliver fresh, tailored content does not just end with one or two demographics. In the mid-20th century, advertisers knew who was watching what show, but they also knew that as time went on, watchers grew up and had children that grew up. The demographics who were first targeted still existed, but within those demographics was an audience who was changing. In the late 1950s and into the 1960s, advertisers began using music to target a different spectrum of audiences.
As rock ‘n’ roll grew in popularity, so did the freedom of the American teenager and their ability to buy things on their own. Teenagers watched sitcoms like “I Love Lucy” and commercials during these sitcoms were often teenage-and-high-school-tailored, such as a teen enjoying a Coca Cola after school or a teen curling her hair before a dance.
Marketers even kept the lifestyles of kids in mind when they marketed certain toys: since many kids lived and played outside, for example, content often celebrated that type of adventurous freedom. Marketers knew that parents were usually the ones with the money, but they also knew that many Depression and WWII-era parents wanted their kids to have the toys and possessions that they couldn’t have as children.
Marketers in the 1950s began creating content that catered to people’s dreams, because dreams and goals are something that almost everyone has. Marketers that advertised in fashion magazines, for example, celebrated a lifestyle of glamour. Many readers could not afford that lifestyle, but they still wanted to feel a part of it.
The same principle still applies today.
That technique is used by almost every inch of the retail and publishing market – but times are changing. Consumers no longer want to feel that the lifestyle they want is lovely, but unattainable. Today, consumers are made of do-it-yourselfers. They are independent, budget-conscious go-getters. But people are still dreamers, and they are looking for ways to reach those dreams.
So how can content marketers create content that celebrates a lifestyle but that still gets these choice-inundated people to buy? By going back to the way it was in the beginning.
In the 1950s, marketers kept it simple. Their messages were direct, but relatable. Their television content was timed, so it had to be. In a short period of time, they gave consumers information in a jingle, a slogan, an image, a testimonial or even a beautiful portrayal of what life could be like with a certain brand of cigarettes in your pocket.
They didn’t inundate people with tons of info – they handed it to them straight up, albeit in a nicely packaged, customer-focused type of way.
They showed consumers that they knew who was watching their shows and commercials.
They displayed to you that they cared about your lifestyle, but that they, just like you, wanted to help make it better. In this way, they answered to the goals and dreams of everyone, creating content that people just couldn’t live without.