Paul Fitzpatrick: London, March 2023
Growing up in the 60s and early 70s we had it pretty good I reckon.
On our piece of the rock there were no wars, pandemics or civil unrest. True, there was the odd power cut in the early 70s due to the miners strikes, but I remember that being more an adventure-under-candle-light than any real form of hardship.
Apart from the normal growing pains and adolescent insecurities, life was pretty good, and yet, I always had the notion that we weren’t living our best life…. like our counterparts in America.
So, what was this grand social insight based on?
Academic studies? Penetrating documentaries? First hand experience?
Nope, it was based on the only lens I had of the world back then (outside of the National Geographic’s we used to thumb-through in Geography lessons, hoping to discover topless tribeswoman)….
American comics, or to be more specific American comic ads.
To a 10 year old raised on The Beano, the ads featured on the inside covers of American comics were as spellbinding as the comics themselves.
How lucky were those Kids of America (whoa oh), that they had access to the types of treasures we could only dream of owning…
Life size Monsters, Rocket Ships, Nuclear Subs. Sea Monkeys, X-ray specs, Electric engine’s, and Physique’s like Charles Atlas, there seemed no end to the toys, gadgets and goodies on offer across the pond.
I was fortunate to have a great aunt (in both senses of the word), who emigrated to the Big Apple in the early 60s.
My aunt Marj was a PA for a publishing company in Manhattan and a couple of times a year she would send me over a bundle of American comics… bless her heart.
Whenever I caught sight of that package with the airmail stamp I knew I was in for a treat, and they never disappointed – countless capers with Richie Rich, Casper and Archie & his friends (oh sugar sugar).
Adventures with the Justice League, the Green Lantern, the Hulk, Thor and Spiderman, I would devour those comic-books cover to cover until every word was consumed, including the adverts, especially the adverts.
This led to a mild obsession with all things Americana for a few years which to be fair was supported by other cultural happenings from the era.
Take television for example, my favourite 60s tv programmes were mostly American….
The Monkees, The Man from Uncle, The Munsters, The Adams Family, Lost in Space and the Tex Avery cartoon universe.
We weren’t exactly an underprivileged society, but it seemed that our American cousins were a step ahead in most aspects of life.
At a time when our cultural cheer-leaders were the pipe-smoking Harold Wilson and ‘Enry “splash it all over” Cooper, the US could point to the charismatic JFK and ‘The Greatest’, Muhammad Ali.
Our standout orator was Enoch Powell their’s was Martin Luther King.
When we were getting excited about the new Ford Escort they were pimping up Ford Grand Torino’s.
When denim became fashionable, we rolled out Falmers Jeans they already had the originals – Levis, Wrangler, Lee.
When it came to bench-mark resorts there was no debate, Blackpool Pleasure Beach versus The Magic Kingdom was simply no contest.
For balance, it’s fair to say that a case could be made for biased-reasoning on all of the above and of course for every JFK there was a ‘Tricky Dicky’ Nixon, for every MLK there was a KKK and for every Woodstock with its 3 Days of Peace, Love & Harmony there was an Altamont with murderous Hells Angels killing the vibe.
The grass ain’t always greener, but those ‘Mad Men’ of Madison Avenue sure made it look that way.
Pioneers in their field, the US advertising gurus of the 60s & 70s built brands and shifted products by selling dreams and fuelling aspirations.
They convinced at least one generation that smoking cigarettes would make them look cool and attractive to the opposite sex, and that eating sugary breakfast cereals would turn their kids into Olympic Champions, just like Bruce Jenner (if only they knew!).
There was nothing these guys couldn’t sell when they put their mind to it.
Check out the 7up ad below.
So when it came to marketing toys to impressionable kids, it was lambs to the slaughter.
What chance did we have when our parents were already entrapped?
And if they weren’t entrapped why the hell did we have a K-tel Veg-o-matic and a Ronco Hair-Trimmer sitting redundant in the cupboard?
My first brush with marketing came with the Jet Rocket Ship below.
As soon as I saw the ad for that bad-boy I was obsessed, I had to have one.
I had the equivalent of 5 bucks in my piggy bank and we had a garden, what else did I need?
I asked my Mum, if I could send money to auntie Marj so she could ship one over. Or maybe she could fly across in one on her next visit? (I wasn’t the brightest kid!).
Not giving her a minutes rest, I gradually wore my mum down to the point of submission, but ever the realist, my dad who was the real gate-keeper, saw through the glossy, targeted advertising with all its features and benefits, still reeling no-doubt from the Veg-o-matic debacle, he predicted it would be a piece of crap… in turn, jettisoning the jet.
As it turned out my dad was right, of course he was right, and although I was pissed-off at the time, he was trying to teach this gullible 10 year old a valuable life-lesson…. ‘if it’s too good to be true, it probably is‘
I’m guessing they received plenty of orders for that five dollar interplanetary rocket with ‘enough room for two air cadets‘ and ‘control levers that work!’
I’m also guessing that 95% of people who received one probably wanted to send it back once they opened the box.
Based on what I know now, I’d predict that only about 20% of purchasers would actually have sent anything back.
Lots of sales but very few satisfied customers.
And that my friends is the power of advertising!
Btw, don’t worry about the 7up kid he turned out just fine….