By STUART ELLIOTT
Published: December 10, 2007
IF you remember the '60s, as a popular saying goes, you probably
weren't there. No matter. Madison Avenue is taking you back with a
skein of campaigns celebrating sights and sounds of the decade.
The ads are filled with images like Volkswagen buses festooned with
groovy graffiti, daisies and other power flowers, peace signs,
psychedelic drawings in DayGlo colors and hair, long beautiful hair,
shining, gleaming, streaming, flaxen, waxen (to quote a lyric from the era).
Music, too, is being used to invoke the 1960s. Commercials on
television, radio and the Internet play tunes like "Daydream" by the
Lovin' Spoonful (1966), "Gimme Some Lovin' " by the Spencer Davis
Group (1967) and "On the Road Again" by Canned Heat (1968).
The trend may have started in summer 2006 when Ameriprise Financial
introduced a campaign with Dennis Hopper, a symbol of the
counterculture for his roles in films like "Easy Rider." It has since
expanded to brands like Geico insurance, Lucky jeans, Total cereal
and U. S. Trust.
What is most intriguing about the trend is that the ads present many
of the contentious aspects of the '60s the protests, the hippies,
the challenge to authority in a positive, even romanticized light.
For instance, a trippy-looking commercial for Total, sold by General
Mills, begins, "The '60s were about change, defying convention," and
ends by proclaiming the cereal as the best breakfast "for mind and body."
During the '60s, mass marketers avoided such language, fearful of
alienating mainstream consumers. The approach is also a far cry from
the demonization of the decade that still pervades political
advertising, as evidenced by recent commercials for Senator John
McCain that attacked Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton as a product of
the '60s culture.
"There are a lot of good things that came out of the '60s," said
Larry Meli, president and chief operating officer at the AmericanLife
TV Network in Washington. "It's time to point them out."
AmericanLife TV, which offers reruns of '60s series like "Lost in
Space" and "Mission: Impossible," is changing its logo to a daisy
from a star. The switch is meant to remind baby boomers of the
"flower power" slogan as well as a commercial from the 1964
presidential campaign, titled "Daisy," that portrayed Barry M.
Goldwater, who ran against Lyndon B. Johnson, as a warmonger.
"Being more precisely relevant to the audience you're trying to
address is a good thing," said Ted Ward, vice president for marketing
at Geico in Washington, part of Berkshire Hathaway. "There's a huge
opportunity in the baby-boomer group for us to continue to grow our business."
Geico is running a commercial and a print ad depicting a VW bus
decorated with phrases like "right on" and "far out." The ads are
created by the Martin Agency in Richmond, Va., part of the
Interpublic Group of Companies.
"Having been from that era, I can relate," Mr. Ward said, although,
he joked, "I never owned that bus." His Volkswagens of choice, he
recalled, were two Beetles and a Karmann Ghia.
U. S. Trust, part of Bank of America, also displays a VW bus in a
campaign by another Interpublic agency, Hill, Holliday, Connors,
Cosmopulos in Boston. The ads depict a wealthy man today and flash
back to show him decades ago, surrounded by friends, inside a bus on a beach.
"The most valuable car in his collection isn't the Ferrari, the Cobra
or the Aston Martin," a headline declares, "but a 1968 bus."
(Actually, the owner seems to have borrowed parts from models from
For people in U. S. Trust's intended audience, "the '60s "was a
formative time in their lives, their wonder years," said Anne
Finucane, chief marketing officer at Bank of America in Boston.
The bus is a symbol "of the values you grew up with, the values that
made you successful and the values you want to pass on to your
children," she added.
Indeed, the children of the baby boomers are another reason it is
suddenly the time of the season for the '60s.
"The kids are realizing what that generation was all about and what
their fathers and mothers contributed," said George Lois, who with
his son, Luke, is creating a campaign for AmericanLife TV that
carries the theme "For baby boomers and their babies."
The campaign, from an agency in New York aptly named Good Karma
Creative, pairs parents and offspring, like the actress Susan
Sarandon and her daughter, Eva Amurri; Graydon Carter, the editor of
Vanity Fair magazine, and his son, Ash; and the artist James
Rosenquist and his daughter, Lily.
Ms. Amurri, for example, praises the way her mother's generation
worked to "change the world" by supporting women's liberation and
opposing the Vietnam War. And Ash Carter describes how his father
took part in the movements for racial equality and against the war.
The echo effect from an unpopular conflict that polarized a nation
four decades ago has not gone unnoticed.
"I'd like to think that the recent trend of using hippie and
flower-power songs and tracks is actually a subliminally subversive
tactic," said Josh Rabinowitz, senior vice president and director for
music at the Grey Group in New York, part of the WPP Group, "tapping
into a subtle yet palpable collective consumer dissent with the Iraq war."
For those who may dispute such a political perspective, Mr.
Rabinowitz offered another rationale for the music's comeback: It sounds good.
The songs appeal to a younger demographic as much as they do to
boomers, he said, because they are reminiscent of the
"indie-inflected" songs heard on TV series like "Grey's Anatomy" and
in films like "Garden State."
Reactions to the ads are so far predominantly positive, the executives say.
"A lot of people are noticing" the Total campaign, said Ann Hayden,
worldwide creative director on the General Mills account at Saatchi &
Saatchi in New York, part of the Publicis Groupe.
"It gives us a starting point for getting people to rethink the
brand," she added.
At Geico, which closely tracks the response to its campaigns, Mr.
Ward said the VW bus ads "are working."
For U. S. Trust, Ms. Finucane said, there will be "more ads coming"
with a '60s vibe because "many of our customers identify with it."
There may also be ads aimed at wealthy investors who fondly recall
the '70s. Asked if they will use symbols of that decade, like
spinning disco balls, Ms. Finucane replied, "I hope not."