Adman vs. The Beatles: Who Drove ’60s Culture?

The world is in mourning that Mad Men won’t return this summer, so to fill that hole in your heart, we bring you a look at some of the great advertising advancements in the 1960s, as seen in the evolution of the definitive band of the decade, The Beatles. The Beatles encompassed both mass culture and counterculture, two concepts admen of the era tried to bring together to revolutionize how they sold everything from Pepsi to Virginia Slims to Nehru jackets. But did you ever wonder who was leading the charge: the admen or The Beatles?

In large part the advertising advances examined here are case studies in The Conquest of Cool: Business Culture, Counterculture, and the Rise of Hip Consumerism by Thomas Frank — recommended reading for those hoping for spoilers about what happens when Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce finally trips into 1966 as well as those missing the insider’s look Mad Men offers into the culture of admen in that decade.

Overthrow the establishment with your zany sense of humor

The explosion of youth culture in the Baby Boom generation had a massive impact on the worlds of advertising and music. These new cultures, in turn, began to predict each other. Doyle Dane Bernbach Agency (DDB) changed the game 1961, taking on Volkswagen when their post-WWII associations with Hitler were still strong and turning the brand into a symbol of everything that was wrong with the American auto industry with only one word in the famous “Lemon” ad. Firms like DDB were not only challenging the accepted standards in advertising, but challenging the accepted culture among admen. Prior to the revolution, the scientists and pollsters who developed empirical research evidence at ad agencies were the guiding force behind campaigns, all of which were still swinging at the whims of clients. DDB insisted that the creatives, the art directors and copywriters, should be treated with reverence and that the client was almost always wrong.

And in Beatles-land in 1961 there was also a whole lot of Germany going on — the boys were in the midst of their all-leather phase, playing months of shows in Hamburg, meeting Brian Epstein, and not yet in possession of their famous Beatles haircuts or a record deal. They were just trying to be, not yet ready to be leaders. The world at large wouldn’t get a glimpse of that irreverent Beatles sense of humor for a few more years.

Advantage: Admen