[This posting is best enjoyed while listening to the accompanying soundtrack — a 7.9 MB download of “Creative Freakout” by The Hellers, available as part of Otis Fodder’s 365 Days project. While enduring the tedium of download-time, why not fix yourself a tasty, brand-name beverage? Treat yourself right and consume quantities of processed liquids, while we still have the freedom to enjoy them…]
Rebel anthems by the likes of The Clash sold off for TV commercials are nothing new, culturally speaking. Uber-Baffler Tom Frank’s first book The Conquest of Cool is an inspiring tale of swinging sixties marketeers who instinctively knew that values defined in opposition to The Man — The Hip, The Weird, The Cool — could in fact be used as selling points for positioning and moving The Product.
Frank stresses throughout that the countercultural attitude of advertisers was not simply a form of co-optation, a strategy to snare the new disposable income of baby boomers. Ad-men at agencies such as Doyle Dane Bernbach sincerely saw themselves as hipster revolutionaries, upending order and ushering in a new age of personal liberation and creativity.
… their concentration on the symbols of first youth and then culture-rebel owed more to new understandings of consumption and business culture than to a desire to sell the kids. The counterculture served corporate revolutionaries as a projection of the new ideology of business, a living embodiment of attitudes that reflected their own. In its hostility to established tastes, the counterculture seemed to be preparing young people to rebel against whatever they had patronized before and to view the cycles of the new without the suspicion of earlier eras. Its simultaneous craving for authenticity and suspicion of tradition seemed to make the counterculture an ideal vehicle for a vast sea-change in American consuming habits. Through its symbols and myths, leaders of the menswear and advertising industries imagined a consumerism markedly different from its 1950s permutation, a hip consumerism driven by disgust with mass society itself.
Now about this posting’s soundtrack… A groovy primary artifact of the Madison Avenue maverick mindset recently popped up on the 365 Days project. “Creative Freakout” was distributed by the LA-based Heller Corporation as a promotional record to its clients. Packed with limp parodies of the protest movement, mixed in with examples of the cheesy jingles that were Heller’s bread and butter, the marketer as the true hipster is its unifying theme.
It opens with a narration by a hardboiled Chandleresque character, a “private ear” for the Heller Corporation who suddenly finds himself caught in the midst of a “psychedelic freakout in a parking lot at a Bank of America.”
A chick with hair down to her bare feet and a one hundred foot stare in a ten foot room screamed into my ear, “we shall overcome!”
I said, “baby, we did. Haven’t you heard our advertising story?”
“Mass media”, she sneered, and hit me with a 9X12 picture of Mario Savio.
“Don’t knock it kid,” I replied, “remember…”
The online excerpt of The Conquest of Cool concludes: If we really want to understand American culture in the sixties, we must acknowledge at least the possibility that the co-opters had it right, that Madison Avenue’s vision of the counterculture was in some ways correct.”
Or put another way, one reason why marketers are so adept at working rebellious themes into their pitches is that they helped to define those themes in the first place.