I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book. - Groucho Marx

How To Get a “Head” in Advertising

by Casey Dewey
Jan. 20, 2017

It was around 1957 when Dr. Humphrey Osmond coined the term “psychedelic”. Osmond was researching the effects of LSD and the onset stages of schizophrenia, and it was he who dosed author Aldous Huxley for the first time, which in turn led to Huxley’s tome about stumbling around Hollywood trippin’ balls and groovin’ on paintings, The Doors of Perception. When Osmond proposed the term, he said it meant “mind manifesting” and went on to call it “clear, euphonious and uncontaminated by other associations.” I don’t think Osmond, with his synapses firing and his turned-on mind buzzing with delusions of blissful utopias, could have envisioned just how far out Madison Ave would go to sell the world a stick of deodorant.

It was the late 60’s, and the times they were a-changin’. Youth counter-culture was in full swing all across the world. Films, fashion, music and art got a lot more colorful, and the head honchos in the advertising world were taking note, no doubt seeing vibrant leafy-green dollar signs turning into the brilliant rays of golden nuggets in their minds. Psychedelic art itself was no stranger to advertising, the Haight-Ashbury nexus of San Francisco was festooned with acid-trip inspired Grateful Dead posters advertising their shows at the Fillmore Auditorium. Rick Griffin, a young artist and surfing enthusiast, along with fellow underground artist Stanley Mouse, were the ones responsible for these eye-popping and mind-blistering works of art. The two artists would be associated with the Dead for quite some time in their careers, having designed not only the flyers but a lot of their cover art as well. But it was New York-based artist Peter Max who got the corporate rock rolling.

General Electric came knocking on Max’s loft door, commissioning the cosmic Picasso to paint and craft a series of wall clocks, looking to hook a few dollars from the hemp wallets of young time-conscious hippies. And what clocks they were! Razzle-dazzle, fraxle-draxle timepieces bursting with kaleidoscopic colors and freak-out designs. Not long after, Max was the darling of the post-Mad Men set, using today’s groovy new images to sell yesterday’s products. 7-Up may have been what Wally Cleaver and Eddie Haskell drank in the 50’s, but after Max got his hands on it, the resulting commercials looked like the Yellow Submarine lost it’s course and crashed right into the bottling plant. 72 corporations seduced Max and his ink-as-acid blotter, soon after a cover story for Life Magazine and spots on The Tonight Show and The Ed Sullivan Show followed.

After Max opened the gates, the acid aesthetic was everywhere. TV commercials became Boschian nightmares and woozy wobbly head trips. Ronald McDonald became a Ken Kesey Pied Piper. Coca Cola wanted to teach the world to sing with an angelic cult on a misty mountain top. Europe wasn’t safe either; their own brand of psychedelica came in the slightly less ridiculous form of the Swinging Mod/Dandy fashion - colorful surrealist art swirled about like so much paint splattered from The Prisoner’s umbrellas. French chocolates and English teas were aimed at their youth with a cacophonous chorus of Mod stylings and go-go boots galore.

Around the world The Age of Aquarius had been dissected, taken-apart, reassembled, and re-packaged to sell mostly useless consumer goods, pulling the shag carpet right from underneath the counter-culture. As Jeffrey Lebowski said to The Dude in The Big Lebowski, “the bums lost the war!” Capitalism is a bummer sometimes, man.

Casey Dewey resides in Tucson, Arizona. He's a film writer for the Tucson Weekly and host of "Deep Red Radio" , a radio show dedicated to film soundtracks on 91.3 KXCI FM. He enjoys tacos, cervezas and garlic in everything. He wakes up every morning to a fresh pot of black coffee and at least two hours of Dragnet on TV.