#2: the revolution will not be televised, it will be sold
Previous propaganda techniques struggle to work with the boomer generation in a period of social unrest – until Madison avenue has a breakthrough.

Beens, Robert E. 2021. “We must stop the sale, manipulation, or theft of our data.” Fast Company.

Bernays, Edward L. 2004. Propaganda. Ig Publishing.Curtis, Adam. 2020. “The Century of the Self - BBC Documentary (2002).” YouTube: Gnosis Documentaries https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jymMjNc0igI

“First Measured Century: Interview: Daniel Yankelovich.” PBS.

Greenberg, Udi. “Freud and the Miseries of Politics.” The New Republic.

Hampton, Fred, and Black Panther Party. “I Am A Revolutionary” speech.“Human Potential Movement.”  Wikipedia.

“Mechanisms of Social Movement Suppression – Defend Dissent.” Oregon State University.

Munteanu, Cătălin C., and Andreea Pagalea. 2014. “Brands as a Mean of Consumer Self-expression and Desired Personal Lifestyle.” Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 109 (January): pgs. 103-107.

“1980s: Commerce.”  Encyclopedia.com.

Rafferty, John P. “America's Boomer Generation.” Britannica.

“7 Lessons From the Golden Age of Advertising That Still Apply.” MoreBusiness.com.

“Statistical Abstract of the United States 1982-83.” U.S. Census Bureau.
Mr. Clean gets rid of dirt and grime and grease in just a minute.
Mr. Clean will clean your whole house and everything that’s in it.

[Commercial fades into sounds of police sirens, breaking glass, and escalating protests]

“The whole world is watching…”

“I do hereby officially request the immediate deployment of federal troops to assist in re-establishing law and order in the city of…”

“Looting, murder, and arson have nothing to do with civil rights.”

Black Panther Party activist, Fred Hampton: “But when I leave, you’ll remember I said, with the last words on my lips, ‘I am…a revolutionary.”

There's American culture before the ‘60s, and then there's after.

“Good evening. Tonight, President Nixon will try to restore some calm to the troubled United States. He will be speaking…”

This era occupies our collective consciousness more than any other. It's difficult to imagine the sheer immensity of political, social, and cultural change that occurred in this decade happening today.

In large part, we can attribute this change to the baby boomers. The largest generation in history, the boomers caused a massive demographic swing in the United States. By the mid-’60s, half of the population was under 25. These shifting demographics made it where youth culture and the counter-culture as a whole could not be ignored by politicians, and definitely not by advertisers. There were just too many of them.

“Who are these young Americans? How will they affect American society and the world? What do they want?”

The social and political movements of the ‘60s were led by the most marginalized in our society. But what forced the status quo to react was the fact that even the white affluent youth were pushing these movements ahead, too. The boomers were radically reimagining the governing systems that had been put in place. They didn't care about authority and they saw the propaganda Madison Avenue created as an extension of this system.

Robert F. Kennedy: “Some very sad news for all of you, and people who love peace all over the world. And that is that Martin Luther King was shot and was killed tonight.”

Events like the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Fred Hampton, the Kent State massacre, and the incident at the Chicago DNC all served as high water marks where the politically radical aspirations of this generation were always met with violent suppression from the state.

1968 Democratic presidential nominee, Hubert Humphrey: “The deep sadness that we feel over the troubles and the violence which have erupted regrettably and tragically in the streets of this great city.”

You could say that these flashes of violence were a failure of propaganda. The tools that had been used to shift behaviors and beliefs were no longer working. Something had to change.

WUO activist, Bernardine Dohrn: “There's no way to be committed to nonviolence in the middle of the most violent society that history has ever created. I'm not committed to nonviolence in any way.”

Like any good strategy, it starts with a universal truth. Beneath all the radical political activity,
all the drugs, all the rock music, and all the sex, the boomers really only cared about one thing: the ability to express themselves. This new generation may have been nonconformists, but that doesn't mean we couldn't make them into consumers.

This is propaganda.

Entering the ‘60s, the work Bernays had done creating propaganda for private industry was central to how Madison Avenue operated. The majority of the agencies now had a psychoanalyst on staff to better understand consumers and their behaviors.

“May I ask you a couple of questions?”

Bernays's approach to market research is seen as a default. Another major change is that television has become the dominant medium. Brands were now able to tell more compelling stories with both image and sound, directly into the homes of the consumer.

However, the stories being told generally painted a picture of a world that was not grounded in reality. They offered visions of a traditional and conformist ideal. Others would finally see you as the perfect housewife. You'd finally fit in with everyone else, but only if you bought their product.

“Harvey, want anything special for your birthday?”

“Just a decent cup of coffee.”

“You're kidding.”

“I'm serious, honey, your coffee is undrinkable!”

“Why don't you try instant Folgers? Tastes good as fresh-perked.”

“Instant Folgers tastes good as fresh-perked. Try it.”

Call it wish fulfillment. Call it escapism. Call it everyone just wanted a bit of peace and quiet after World War 2. Whatever you wanna call it, as the ‘60s unfolded, it stopped working.

WUO activist, Linda Evans: “We want to live a life that isn't based on materialistic values, and yet the whole system of the economy of America is based on profit, on personal greed, and selfishness.”

Everywhere you looked, the Freudian belief that society serves as a governing force that demands conformity was being rejected.

Adam Curtis, The Century of the Self: “The inner self did not need to be repressed and controlled. It should be encouraged to express itself.”

At the Esalen Institute on the West Coast, this idea would end up sparking the Human Potential Movement. You may remember Esalen from the finale of Mad Men. It's where Don Draper goes and has the idea for the greatest commercial ever made.

“The new day brings new hope. The lives we’ve had; the lives we get to lead; a new day; new ideas; a new you.”

This movement stands for the idea that every human being is capable of living a life of complete bliss and creative expression. If we all committed to helping each other express our true inner selves, the result would be a happier and healthier society.

American jazz poet, Gil Scott-Heron: “The first change that takes place is in your mind. You have to change your mind before you change the way you live and the way you move. The thing that's going to change people is something that no one will ever be able to capture on film. It'll just be something that you see, and all of a sudden you realize, ‘I'm on the wrong page.’”

The movement was based on research conducted decades prior by Abraham Maslow. Maslow saw the majority of humanity acting with autonomy and generally in pursuit of a better life and a better world. All they needed was a framework to help guide them toward the truly meaningful life they were in pursuit of. This belief system is best exemplified by the framework that bears his name: Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs.

Adam Curtis, The Century of the Self: “Maslow had invented a new system of psychological type, he called it the ‘hierarchy of needs’ and it described the different emotional stages that people went through as they liberated their feelings. At the top was self actualization. This was the point at which individuals became completely self-directed and free of society.”

The baby boomers were uniquely poised to ascend Maslow's hierarchy. This desire to self-actualize had been a major driver behind their radical political activity, and now it would fuel the spread of the Human Potential Movement.

Psychologist and advocate for psychedelic drugs, Timothy Leary: “You can't get caught in the conforming rote lockstep, which we call American society.”

The movement's principal focus was the liberation of the self. What that means is that you can't truly self-actualize until you're deconditioned from the society that spent your entire life suppressing you.

Spiritual teacher and yoga guru, Ram Dass: “You've got to override the very strong habits or associations that your mind has learned from its childhood on. Well, that's really the key or the essence of the psychedelic experience.”

Taking LSD, having lots of weird sex, and anything else that comes to mind when you imagine a hippie, were all a part of this process.

“The thing is they won't put any other message on the air as a real alternative. There are 99,000 alternatives to the one asshole…”

The Human Potential Movement was offering another path for self-actualization. Changing the world doesn't require protest or violence – the only revolution is the one in your own mind.

Timothy Leary: “Don't politic don't vote. These are old men's games, impotent and senile old men. They want to put you on to their old chess games of war and power. Drop out.”

After witnessing the violent suppression with which their political activity had been met, this idea must have seemed really exciting to the affluent, white middle-class baby boomers who had made these issues impossible to ignore in the first place.

“With a problem like civil rights, it's perfectly clear where the right lies. But in order to implement the right, you have to make such a complete commitment that most people aren't willing to do it.”

“I just figure I'm just going to attack certain decisions in my life and not think about them.
Because what difference does it make?”

Political activism was not required. It's about making a new you. That if enough people changed the way they were, that the society would change.”

No more getting beaten by cops, no more getting arrested. All you had to do to bring about the world you wanted to see, was focus on yourself.

“Most of today's young people develop a sense of powerlessness about their ability to change society. They feel they cannot change the system, so they turn to their own private lives as the only thing over which they have any real control.”

It's a shift from the status quo being radical conformity to a new status quo: radical individualism.

“I didn't care for society. I don't know what I'm looking for, but it's not there.”

Remember, Bernays had to create an association between the product and a desire already governing the public's behavior.

And how does Madison Avenue plan to use this information?

“We have evolved a hypothesis, and it is simply that, we feel that they are going to find their identity through consumption. In other words, that through consumption and through identification with products and services, people will gain some identity.”

“Not a lot of people understand how serious we are about saving this planet. I'm dead serious.”

You care about the environment, so you wear Patagonia.

“You know, we carry rifles for a living and we are kind of making jokes about, ‘Oh Black Rifle Coffee Company, this will piss people off.’”

You hate woke culture, so you drink Black Rifle Coffee.

Is this starting to sound familiar? It should. It's called lifestyle branding, and it's the foundation of contemporary consumer marketing. People don't buy your products, they buy the “why” behind your product. But it doesn't matter how much thought leadership you bury it under, the goal is still to shift the beliefs and behaviors of individuals. It's still propaganda.

“The New York woman. When her needs are financial, her reaction is chemical. Chemical New York, the bank for the New York woman. Whoever she is.

Propaganda's new focus on self-expression would creatively liberate Madison Avenue. We don't have to speak to all Americans, we can just focus on the individual. With a more narrow audience, you can take more creative risk.

“No, you don't see many wild stallions anymore. He's one of the last of a wild and very singular breed. Come to where the flavor is, come to Marlboro country.”

The Golden Age of Advertising is generally referred to as a period from the ‘60s to the late '70s. It's kind of the Golden Age of American culture in general. Similar to music and film industries of the time, partly out of exasperation with a culture they just no longer understood, executives in advertising handed the reins over to creatives.

“Who the hell are you talking to? You talking to me?”

All of this resulted in advertising getting weird, and a lot more creatively exciting. They started reimagining what could be done and said within the medium.

“There was a stranger who came into our town. We might have welcomed him, except for one thing – his pants. They weren't dull like ours, and this troubled us.

‘Stranger, how is it your pants have colors and flared legs?’

He just smiled and said, ‘I'm wearing Levi's.’”

This new generation was breaking all the rules, and advertising was doing it too. A great example of this is the iconic Volkswagen ad series. It includes print ads like “Lemon” and “Think Small”. These advertisements break the oldest and most basic rules of advertising: don't insult your products; don't lead with deficiencies in the marketplace.

“Just about everyone will be telling you about this great new idea. To think small. It is a great idea. We at Volkswagen have been working on it for 21 years.”

They're no longer even selling the Volkswagen – they're just selling an idea. You don't follow the rules? Neither do we. We see things differently. The results speak for themselves. When you imagine a bunch of hippies in 1970 driving a car, what car are they driving?

Doing something new is a risk, and when an audience sees you take that risk for them and pull it off, they love you for it. This period is the Golden Age because when propaganda stopped focusing on the masses, it was finally able to tell great stories. Propaganda was no longer just manipulating behavior, it was winning hearts and minds.

Ultimately, this shift turned the boomer generation into the greatest generation of consumers Corporate America has ever known. The Boomers got what they always wanted – the ability to express themselves. They just had to pay for it.

The radical self-expression that drove the activism of the ‘60s and '70s had now given way to a rugged individualism and rampant consumerism of the ‘80s and ‘90s. Products have become symbols for self-expression, and as a result, brands became an extension of your own identity. The goal of any communication is now to convey that the product, politician, or entity will help you self-actualize. You'll be able to express yourself more authentically.

It's a mirror. The brand is a better you, and as a result, you become emotionally invested. Its success is your success, so you evangelize it, because you see it as an extension of yourself.

“I love Disney so much.”

“This is literally in my childhood.”

“James Earl Jones coming back as mothering Mufasa!”

The only problem is, the longer you look in the mirror, the harder it is to see where you end, and where the propaganda begins.

Black Panther Party activist, Fred Hampton: “But when I leave, you’ll remember I said, with the last words on my lips, ‘I am…a revolutionary.”

This is propaganda.

Cohosts: Josh Belhumeur and Malcolm Critcher
Producers: Jaclyn Hubersberger and Reed Chandler
Story Editor: Matt Decker
Additional Audio Engineering: Paul Injeti
Original music: Josh Belhumeur

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