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Mad Men: 1960s airline advertising

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Airline advertising was undergoing a major shift in the 1960s.

As part of commemorating Air Transport World’s 50th anniversary, I recently spent some time reviewing issues of ATW published in the mid-1960s, particularly focusing on 1964, the year the magazine was launched. A retrospective I wrote on the airline industry in 1964, “A Golden Age,” can be found in the March issue of ATW (an online version is available here to those of you with an ATW Plus subscription). One of the interesting topics I didn’t have room for in the retrospective was airline advertising, which was undergoing a major shift in the 1960s.

Just as airlines in 2014 are trying to figure out how to best sell their services on the Internet and via social media, in 1964 airlines were trying to determine how to take advantage of an electronic media that was becoming increasingly popular: television.

American Airlines, United Air Lines and Trans World Airlines participated in an advertising survey conducted by ATW for our June 1964 issue and the carriers reported a growing interest in TV, which was then just starting to become commonplace in American households. Color TV existed, but almost all broadcasts in 1964 were still in black and white.

In 1962, according to the survey, 68% of the airlines’ advertising spending went to newspapers, magazines and radio, with newspapers leading the way at 41%. TV ads accounted for only 3% of the carriers’ ad spending in 1962. By 1963, however, TV grew to 10% of the airlines’ ad spending while newspapers dropped from 41% to 33% and radio from 15% to 12%.

“Airline advertising is changing its mind on where the money should go,” ATW reported in 1964.

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