5th Avenue: A History of Marketing and Advertising in New York

Fifth Avenue in New York is one of the most famous thoroughfares in the world. It stretches through Midtown from Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village to West 143rd Street in Harlem, many of the city's most famous locations are on or near Fifth Avenue. The Empire State Building, Flatiron Building, Rockefeller Center, and New York Public Library are all located along Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. Fifth Avenue may be most notable for its shopping district between 49th and 60th streets. World-famous storefronts like Chanel, Tiffany & Company, and Saks Fifth Avenue make this section commonly rank among the most expensive shopping districts on Earth.

Fifth Avenue is inextricably linked with the history of advertising in New York. The advertising industry was built in Manhattan. As televisions became more readily available in the 1950s and 1960s, the advertising industry exploded. The series Mad Men depicts this time period in American advertising. Similar to other portrayals of the era, Mad Men follows prominent members of the advertising industry as they go through their day drinking, womanizing, and otherwise living lavishly from their lucrative careers. The show has been praised for its generally accurate depiction of the advertising industry in the 1960s.

Although the first American advertising agency was founded in Philadelphia, the industry was built in Manhattan. Originally brokers for newspaper space, advertising expanded into radio in the 1920s. By the 1960s, television sets had become relatively common in the average home, and advertisers worked to create a strategy for the medium. The postwar era brought an economic boom, and consumers were spending money in record amounts. Creating advertising campaigns for major companies became a lucrative business.

The 1960s were a tumultuous time in the United States. The civil rights movement, as well as the influence of the free love movement later in the decade, signaled a change in the belief systems in America. This change brought a creative revolution to the advertising industry. New strategies were being used to promote brands. Following the baby boom of the postwar era, nearly 50% of the population was under the age of 25, and advertisers needed to find a way to appeal to these young people.

Self-deprecating humor, wit, and irony began to be used in advertising to appeal to a younger demographic. It was during this period that Volkswagen unveiled one of the most famous advertising campaigns ever conceived. By using negative headlines to create positive advertising, they showed the potential of humor in advertising and the success that was possible by targeting younger consumers. Marketing leaders attempted to give identities and personalities to the products they were advertising. The 1960s also introduced the idea that "sex sells" by adding a sexual nature to advertising campaigns.

Along with the positives of working in the advertising industry in the 1960s, there were also things that are seen as negatives today. Sexual harassment and sexism in general were both commonplace in the 1960s landscape. Women had to work much harder to achieve the same level of success as their male counterparts, and the better positions were set aside for male employees. A recent survey of former industry employees found that more than 50% were aware of instances of employees having sex at work. The treatment of women in the 1960s advertising industry would certainly not be considered acceptable today.

The marketing and advertising industry that was built in Manhattan throughout the 20th century would have a lasting impact on NYC and the rest of the world. The postwar economy combined with a change in marketing strategies that occurred in the 1960s created an economic powerhouse along Fifth Avenue. Real estate along Fifth Avenue is among the most expensive in New York. This is because these locations are considered to be some of the best in the city. The economic district of Fifth Avenue is home to flagship locations for some of the largest retailers in the world.

The NYC advertising industry changed the way we shop for products and the details we consider important in the products we buy. The 1960s were a period of economic boom that saw a change in how products were advertised. The use of irony, wit, and humor in advertising helped companies appeal to younger consumers, and these techniques are still commonly seen in advertising today. The desire to appeal to young consumers also has remained a cornerstone of advertising strategies.