Counter-Culture’s Powerful Influence on Advertising

// Published July 6, 2017 by User1

Bill Bernbach an advertising icon of the 1960’s, largely remembered for his Pop Art scene and Psychedelic poster images, successfully introduced his counter-culture perspective to Madison Avenue and the industry hasn’t been the same since.


American consumer disillusion with the Ozzy and Harriett culture of the post-war 1950’s was drawn to the advertising campaigns that shifted the power fulcrum from conservatively-influenced, large corporations back into the hands of the disaffected younger consumer with rebellious taste preferences. This group found the institutional conformity ideals of the previous decade disdainful and sought to actively promote their own culture of individuality.


Bernbach’s highly successful campaign of the 1960’s, the Volkswagen “Think Small” advertisements took aim at the conservative family-themed, bigger-is-better perspectives of the previous decade and in so doing, won the brand-based loyalties of the anti-establishment culture of that period.


The use of mystical themes, bright colors and hippie-styled paintings became common advertising motifs in the 60’s. Bank Americard’s flower-themed ads, Sony’s “Strawberry Alarm Clock” rock band print copy and Hublein’s “The New Free Spirit in Liquor” ads joined the successful underground marketing themes trend.


In the 1980’s, political conservatism became a dominant force again and marketers of that period brought in a whole new era of counter-culture ads. Smaller marketing firms and record labels capitalized on imagery that flew in the face of Reagon-omics and the mega-corporate era. Apple computers developed a successful marketing strategy that eventually evolved into the “Think Different” slogan for which their brand became re-known.


Budweiser, Calvin Klein and Subaru capitalized on the popular grunge sub-culture of the 1990’s and 2000’s decades. Nike featured subculture icon William S. Burroughs, known for several famous works including “Naked Lunch,” providing a narrative commentary on a portable disk player tossed around throughout the television commercial.


More recently, in their campaign targeted towards a millennial audience, Adidas’s “Your Future is not Mine” commercial features several highly provocative scenarios challenging modern cultural banalities, demonstrating that the powerful influence of sub-culture is here to stay.


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