Back in time – Dutch advertising in the 1970s
July 30, 2010 Leave a Comment
It is a real nostalgia trip that visitors to the new exhibition about the advertising medium in the 1970s in the Netherlands are being offered at Centre Céramique in Maastricht.
Although explanations are in Dutch, the collection of some 50 advertising posters, TV commercials, media campaigns and propaganda leaflets now on display is predominantly a visual experience.
“Our goal was to show the enormous change in advertising that happened in the 1970s. That’s when the advertising industry started taking a more modern approach, ” says Project Manager Miriam Mordang.
“To better get your head round it, you have to understand Dutch history,” she continues. “The 1950s brought not only postwar affluence to the average citizen but a whole new array of material goods for which need had to be created.”
This period, known in the Netherlands as de wederopbouw, was characterised by profound changes within the society. While people started enjoying more prosperity and well-being in the 1960s, the main breakthrough came in the 1970s with the television set. And where the sets went, the advertisers followed.
Sunken sitting area (‘zitkuil’), reminding of 1970s style living rooms
where people used to relax and watch television.
The year 1967 saw the introduction of the first television commercials in the Netherlands. It was immediately clear that they could be used as a powerful medium to influence the public. People suddenly longed to wear the same clothes, use the same products and drive the same cars as they had seen on their television screens.
“In the old days people just bought the things they needed – soap, furniture or clothes,” explains Mordang. “But in the Seventies the messages relayed through ads showed them that they had a greater choice of products: not only Sunlight soap but also Fa, Nivea, Zwitsal, Lux, the smell of sea breeze or roses. And no longer any trousers or jeans but distinct brands such as Lois, Wrangler or Levi’s”.
“Another important milestone in the year 1967 was reached when the first naked woman was shown on TV” (Phil Bloom, in the television programme Hoepla), says Mordang.
This was the time when the sexual revolution was at its peak in Europe. The Seventies meant not only ‘sexual liberation’ in the way society viewed sexuality, but also that women gained more and more confidence and started protesting against convention. Adverts brought a tremendous change in the relationship between women and the workplace. Female employment became socially acceptable and even desirable. At the same time women fought for their rights on abortion. This was seen in the emergence of the baas in eigen buik concept – a Dutch expression meaning boss of your own belly.
On the other hand the advertising wave of the 1970s raised criticism. As advertising became mainstream, so did consumerism, causing people to place increasing importance on material goods.
Now that all tobacco advertising has been banned in the European Union since 1991, the large amount of tobacco ads on display at the exhibition can come as a surprise for the younger visitors.
In the 1970s tobacco companies heavily took their inspiration in the Western lifestyle to brand their products. They targeted the female market, which was seen as a potential growth area. Every woman from that generation remembers the Marlboro man, who became a symbol of ultra-desirable masculinity.
The collection of posters is very varied and ranges from advertisements for Puch, the famous motorbike brand, to Levi’s jeans which enjoyed high popularity.
One of the most shocking ads has to be the campaign poster showing a naked women stretching her arms into the air in front of a cow in a field. It was an election poster for the Pacifist Socialist Party (PSP), a Dutch left wing party, which in the 1970s experienced an internal conflict between moderate and radical members. It was a predecessor of the current Green Left Party.
From a personal perspective, being Czech, I could not imagine this kind of political resistance being demonstrated through advertising. Although Czechoslovakia experienced a push for freedom from Soviet rule during the so-called Prague Spring of 1968 – a period lasting several months when the country enjoyed an almost absolute freedom of expression – the liberalisation failed to continue into the 1970s and 1980s. Advertising was turned into ideological propaganda, with an intensity that remained practically unchanged until the fall of communism in 1989.
The exhibition at Centre Céramique can be of interest to a wide range of visitors: from older people enjoying flashbacks into their past to youngsters interested in seeing the differences, and similarities, between the Dutch culture and society of the 1970s and today’s reality.
You definitely don’t have to be Dutch, or 40+, to enjoy it.
By Veronika Krupova
Veronika Krupova (Czech Republic) is currently doing an internship at the European Journalism Centre in Maastricht.