Media in the 1960s—(or) When I Was My Father’s Remote Control

I recall it like it was yesterday. As a child sitting on the floor of our family room near the television, not because I had difficulty seeing the screen, but because, invariably, my father would want the channel changed and guess who would be the one to do it. This was in the 1960s, mind you, before remotes became standard. I guess you could say “I” was the remote.

Photo credit: Reddit; For the record, that is not me in the photo.

My job was relatively easy as there weren’t many channels. Normally, depending on the weather, we averaged three and, sometimes, four — two stations in a nearby town and two farther away. That was television in the sixties. Most of it was black and white, as was life back then.

What about radio? FM had not yet taken over. That left a few local AM stations that played mostly country music or a combination of formats: country in the mornings, rock and roll in the afternoons, and gospel on Sundays. They went off the air at dusk to make room for the 100,000-watt clear channel stations broadcasting out of Nashville, Little Rock, and Chicago.

As to print, there was a daily newspaper published in a nearby town and our local hometown weekly. My parents subscribed to Life, Time, and Readers’ Digest. Oh, and Progressive Farmer, too. (I guess you can tell I grew up in a rural community.)

Advertising in this “Mad Men” era was, by comparison, much simpler than today. It was much easier to reach a mass audience, and companies like Proctor & Gamble, Coca-Cola, and General Motors mastered the art.

In the 1960s, for example, a single ad could reach 80 percent of U. S. women when aired simultaneously on the big three networks: CBS, NBC, and ABC. Today, that same ad would have to be run on 100 different channels multiple times to have any hope of duplicating that feat. Then, the emphasis was on reach and frequency, metrics that have less importance now.

In 1960, an advertiser could spend five million dollars a year and reach 160 million television viewers. With the right message, sustained over a period of years, 85 percent message penetration into the audience was achievable. Mass media reached a mass audience.

That was then; this is now.

MEDIA FRAGMENTATION AND THE ATTENTION ECONOMY

Today, media is fragmented in a thousand different ways. Take television, for example. There is still terrestrial television received via antennas (so long as you have the converter box), but, today, most people subscribe to cable (it’s almost a dinosaur) or have disconnected, opting instead for internet-enabled networks like Hulu, Netflix, and Amazon Prime.

The average viewer now has access to hundreds of channels, and children no longer have to serve the role of channel changer!

Radio has followed the exact same course in that there are terrestrial, satellite, and internet versions. With fewer and fewer people reading the daily newspaper (a trend that has continued unabated for the past 20+ years), it would appear print media is going the way of the albatross. Even the local weekly in the town where I grew up closed after being in business for over 100 years!

The number of daily advertising messages we encounter has skyrocketed into the thousands and some experts believe it to be as high as 10,000. While that number may be exaggerated, the truth is we are constantly bombarded with ads.

Think about it. In the Mad Men days, there were fewer commercials, which reached more people with undivided attention. Today, more ads reach fewer people who pay less attention.

In 1965, the number of people who could recall an ad from a television program they had just watched was 35 percent. Today, that number is less than 10 percent.

In 1960, there were:

  • 4,400 radio stations — today, it’s nearly 14,000.
  • 8500 magazine titles — today, it numbers over 17,000
  • 5.7 television channels — today, 82.4 on average

And I’ve not even mentioned the internet, with its millions of websites and billions of pages, the hundreds of social networks and online communities, email inboxes overflowing with messages, and the scores of RSS feeds to which we subscribe.

To complicate matters further, people are consuming content in an asynchronous, on-demand fashion through Netflix, Hulu, and scores of other networks.

THE AGE OF INFORMATION OVERLOAD

With consumers firmly in control, this spells gloom and doom for advertisers. Media buying, given the current landscape, must be a nightmare. With people fast-forwarding through commercials or skipping them altogether, advertisers are scurrying around to find new ways to gain consumers’ attention. And precious little of that commodity exists. We are in an age of information overload!

Wikipedia suggests a number of possible causes:

  • A rapidly increasing rate of new information is being produced.
  • The ease of duplication and transmission of data across the internet.
  • An increase in the available channels of incoming information (e.g. telephone, e-mail, text messaging, RSS).
  • Large amounts of historical information to dig through.
  • Contradictions and inaccuracies in available information.
  • A low signal-to-noise ratio.
  • A lack of a method for comparing and processing different kinds of information.

American psychologist Herbert Simon put it this way: “…in an information-rich world, the wealth of information means a dearth of something else: a scarcity of whatever it is that information consumes. What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence, a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it.”

Some would suggest that the problem is not information overload at all, but faulty filtering. Conversely, I think we instinctively filter based on need. Most of us have so much going on in real-time that we pay little, if any, attention to that which does not fit the filter.

The bottom line, whether it’s information overload or the ability to adequately filter the information we encounter daily. Either way, it’s bad for interruptive advertising. There must be a better way and, indeed, there is thanks to social media and content marketing.

Social media offers marketers the ability to move beyond the attention economy to the participatory economy, one where companies and consumers sit down across a virtual table from one another and engage in meaningful dialogue about their brands, products, and services.

Content marketing promises to spell the end of advertising as we know it and bring us to an age where the content that’s being created (otherwise known as “information”) is advertising.

A version of this content was originally published in chapter two of my book, The Digital Handshake: Seven Proven Strategies to Grow Your Business Using Social Media.

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Freelance B2B writer and editor, digital marketing instructor, and author.

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[originally posted in 2017 — minimally edited only grammatically in 2022 to satisfy the nagging…

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Paul Chaney

Paul Chaney

Freelance B2B writer and editor, digital marketing instructor, and author.

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