“Please, don’t squeeze the Charmin!,” “Double your pleasure; double your fun”—these memorable slogans and the products they promote have been beamed to Americans in 60, 30 and even 10-second spots since the introduction of television in the 1950s.
This summer the Duke Libraries launched a digital collection of 3,000 historic TV commercials from the Libraries’ Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising & Marketing History. The collection, called AdViews, is accessible through the Libraries’ website and iTunes U. AdViews received 265,000 hits on iTunes U in the first two weeks it was available.
The television commercials, dating back as far as the 1950s, are part of the Hartman Center’s D’Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles (DMB&B) advertising agency archive, which includes 12,000 commercials in total, some produced as recently as the late 1980s. AdViews users can do keyword searches for various product categories, brands, and time periods and trace the history of brands through the decades. The Libraries plan to make all 12,000 of the commercials available by the end of 2009.
The commercials pitch everything from shampoo and toys to dog food and coffee. New York agency DMB&B produced the ads for iconic American companies such as General Foods, Texaco and Kraft. In addition to showing what products Americans have been buying through the decades, the commercials also reveal a great deal about American society over the past 50 years, said former Procter & Gamble marketing executive George Grody, now a visiting professor at Duke.
“I was looking at some of the commercials that are now being digitized at Duke, and they almost provide a history of U.S. culture,” Grody said. “You can see how the roles of women have changed over the years, the role of the family has changed; African Americans in advertising in the late ’60s, where they weren’t so present in the early ’60s.”
The AdViews collection of commercials also tracks changes in advertising strategies. According to Hartman Center Director Jacqueline Reid, “The commercials from 30, 40 years ago were much more direct about selling you the product. The path to take was to appeal to the consumer and try to make them feel some social anxiety. Today I think commercials are quite different. You’re much more likely to see commercials that are meant to entertain.”