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Print ads through the decades – part two

In part one, we explored the world of print creative across the first half of the twentieth century. Here, we continue our decadal journey through design, messaging and the events that shaped them, covering the sixties till the end of the noughties.


The 60s saw the ad industry further honing its use of messaging and photography as growing economies and catalogues made differentiation pressing. In doing so, the modernist imagery of the fifties was developed further and Swiss design philosophy was explored, where pared-back, stylised messaging and imagery worked in serene tandem.

There was a rush of creativity in print advertising as copywriters and art directors began working more closely together, and clients were won over by concepts that ignored or flipped established norms and sought to develop new relationships with audiences. VW’s fantastic Beetle ads were a prime example. These developments mirrored the social upheaval that marked so much of the decade: changing attitudes to race, gender and authority, the effect of youthful populations, and the power and influence of growing consumer movements.


Building on the many cultural and social movements spawned during the sixties, the 1970s saw a continuation of counter-cultural forms of expression. These trends were reflected in the ad industry, which readily embraced bright, colourful styling, combining it with empirical marketing methods that stood in stark contrast with the unbridled creativity of the sixties.

In a crowded ad landscape, product positioning came to the fore, with messaging and design being chosen not just to attract the right consumer audiences, but as a means of providing a comparison against competitor products. 7UP’s ‘Uncola’ campaigns were case in point. Compare the Coke ad in the image above with 7UP’s. Yes, those frosty bottles look damn appetising… but aside from some updated photography, they look just as enticing as they did the previous decade (and the decades after, it should be said). Conversely, 7UP’s messaging and artwork scream ‘counterculture’ – and make Coke’s thumbnail-sized nod to hippie teens ‘enjoying the good times’ look hilariously insincere.


Bold, brash and excessive, eighties print ads followed the lead of the ballooning TV ad space. Creatives experimented with a hugely varied range of designs and messaging approaches, at times reducing word counts to make way for more ever sharper, more vivid photo imagery, or doing the complete opposite, cluttering pages with as much information as the inches would allow.

Booming economies and surging consumerism meant advertisers went further to articulate the ‘lifestyle’ inherent in brands as a means of persuading customers to invest in products. Ads also incorporated coupons more than ever before, hoping to make sales at source.


The 1990s saw the ad landscape diversify ever further as the internet began to make its mark, with integrated marketing coming to the fore. Print still had a significant place in the marketing mix as online advertisers were confronted with limited audience numbers, but it wasn’t immune from the spread of tech, with digital image manipulation giving designers an unprecedented amount of creative rein.

Just as they did in the sixties and seventies, ads became more polished and less text-heavy, returning to a more extensive use of irony and more complex forms of visual expression than were common in the eighties. Counterculture exerted influence in the same way as previous decades, first with collage-heavy grunge, then with tech-obsessed millennial minimalism of the latter decade.


During the noughties, print ads’ place in the ad mix slipped, overtaken by booming online and TV spend. In the decade that started with shiny backgrounds, spiky hair and silver everything, and ended with a broad, minimal and realist style, in print, digital manipulation was firmly the norm.

Designers experimented with all the possibilities digital design could bring. While ads utilising it often strayed into the excessive and models were thoroughly airbrushed, improved photography, digital editing and print technology gave ads a clarity never seen before. Punchy, memorable logos began to carry brands far more than messaging, which became more pared back as the decade progressed. Absent of upheaval and the product of steady economic growth, ads in the 2000s were bright and positive, although this was dampened at the end of the decade as the financial crisis hit.


At Fox Agency, we understand how to craft powerful ads that captivate audiences and help brands grow. Contact our team today and discover how we can create an amazing print ad campaign, or learn more about our experience producing integrated campaigns.