In Adam Curtis’s “EXPERIMENTS IN THE LABORATORY OF CONSUMERISM 1959-67”, we are given a brief account of the two warring camps on Madison Avenue and the individuals pivotal to this era in mass market consumerism. Particularly, we are given some of the major figureheads which some Mad Men characters are based on. For instance, one warring camp called the “USP” or “unique selling point” had the perspective that an advertisement should have one particular trait that “penetrated” the masses and created a sense of brand loyalty. By doing so, this product would, according to this philosophy, stand out the most. This was an idea enumerated by Rosser Reever who coined the term “It’s toasted” for Lucky Strike and serves as inspiration for Donald Draper. On the other hand, there is an account of the “Motivational Research” which was rooted in psychology. One such example was the “empathy” technique which elicited feelings of connection with the consumer and the product. This field was particularly influenced by the post Viennese generation of Freudians who came to the USA. One, Dr. Herzog, stands as the most important, and she was later parodied by the doctor in the first episode. Then there comes the inspiration for Peggy Olsen which was based off a girl a young and rising copy writer who wrote numerous ads for women’s products. Finally there is a brief discussion of Bill Bernach and his brand of “anti-advertising” which was a satire of the consumerism at the time and strove to link public mistrust with advertisements. For example, the “lemon” Volkswagen Beetle that Don does not like uses this technique. It employs the distaste of a used car and reverses the expectations of the consumer as it captures their attention.
I knew of Curtis’s research on consumerism after I watched his documentary called A Century of the Self which outlined the various psychological theories in the advertising world after Freud’s nephew, Edward Bernays, started to work and incorporate his Uncle’s ideas of the unconscious and animalistic drives into mass media. Though the article contains a wealth of information and useful images of products to further explicate the point of this past history, it does sometime lose its focus within the thesis on the Madison Avenue individuals. Throughout the article, one notices that the author sometimes loses his focus as he tries to bring in more and more people to talk about. One notices that there are references to modern TV shows and other advertisement agencies which have no correlation to Madison Avenue. For some reason, the author chose to even reference an actor who plays a role in the TV vampire drama, Buffy the Vampire Slayer because he uses the phrase “ka-ching” in a television ad. In this case, it is evident that Curtis brings superfluous evidence to this article.
Still, the article is strong as it stands as a useful foundation for new viewers of this show. One is able to understand and appreciate the parallels that Matthew Wiener incorporated within this drama. Moreover, understanding the subtle psychological and selling techniques that maybe lost to a new viewer provides for a deeper and richer experience.
Sources referenced: "EXPERIMENTS IN THE LABORATORY OF CONSUMERISM 1959-67." Web log post. The Medium and the Message. Ed. Adam Curtis. BBC, 20 Aug. 2010. Web. 12 Feb. 2011.