Article first published as Branding in the 2010s on Technorati.
We can gain many insights into the 1960s ad industry when we read the new book, Mad Men Unbuttoned: A Romp through 1960s America, by Natasha Vargas-Cooper. The author, a self-described Mad Men fanatic, takes us in and out of the office suites of Sterling Cooper and through memorable years in advertising history. She writes eloquently. Even about things you might think would be otherwise mundane–like typefaces.
“It is fitting,” she says, “American Airlines changed its logo in 1961 to a Helvetica font. Helvetica is neutral. Helvetica is explicitly clear. Helvetica has no formal meaning, no historic roots in carnival posters, newspaper presses, or the Palmer cursive most children were learning. It was newer than the airplanes themselves.”
If fonts were used in the 1960s to evoke modern efficiency as Mia Fineman of Slate suggested regarding the use of Helvetica, what can be said about the fonts used in websites today? Steven Coles suggests that Facebook’s Kalvika font is amongst several that “have the potential to become timeless classics.” Some of the web 2.0 fonts are futurists, “reflecting a look that says ‘tomorrow’s techno’.”
Have you ever wondered what the name of some of your favorites are? Check out the list, e.g. Twitter’s Pico Alphabet, flickr’s Frutiger Black, Technorati’s Neo Sans Medium, YouTube’s Alternate Gothic No. 2, Google’s Catull BQ, hulu’s Futura MDd BT, Linkedin’s Myriad Pro Bold–to name but a few.
At another point in Mad Men Unbuttoned, Vargas-Cooper mentions the artwork of Charley Harper whose “Morton Salt ads are seen in most everyone’s office at Sterling Cooper.” Harper, she tells us, drew for Procter & Gamble, Ivory, Morton Salt and Ford Times magazine throughout the 1950s and early 1960s.
Maybe it’s just me but do Harper’s bird illustrations remind you of the artwork of any social networking web site you know? (Hint: Twitter, anyone?) Don’t blame Simon Oxley, who had been licensed to do Twitter’s bird graphic– since legend has it that he was, “paid the price of a sandwich through iStockphoto.”
Speaking of Twitter, can one help but think of telegrams when you read 140 character tweets? As the blog Retro-Gram reports, Western Union promoted the telegram as a social tool, “The American public in its readiness to accept that which is novel, smart, modern, accepts the telegram as socially correct—something to be expected when one has friends who are up with the times. Invitations to social functions, greetings on an anniversary, best wishes of the season—all are delivered by Western Union on specially designed blanks which add a high note of distinction.”
If we cannot remember the past, will we be condemned to have today’s versions resemble it—at least, a little?
For the record, when it comes to typefaces, illustrations and messaging with friends who are “up with the times,” it’s okay with me if they don’t all fall– too far from the tree.
Photo Credit: Jason Anfinsen