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'The New York Times' wants you to help decode ads from the age of Don Draper

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You are the product

Advertisement from 'The New York Times' circa 1960s, part of Madison online archive
Advertisement from 'The New York Times' circa 1960s, part of Madison online archive

If Mad Men has taught us anything —aside from the fact that the blatant sexism and racism of postwar America hasn't improved very much with time— it's that the 1960s were a golden age of advertising. Back then, companies didn't have fancy tracking algorithms capable of automatically turning you into an unwitting spokesperson for a giant tub of lubricant. No, instead they had to rely on creative copywriters and visual artists to make ads that popped, even in black and white. If you want to see a bunch of the work from this era, head on over to Madison, an aptly named new online archive from The New York Times that collects a bunch of vintage advertisements that printed in the newspaper throughout the decade. Many are bizarre and hilariously anachronistic ("Total Automatic Color TV. Only Maganvox Has It!"), but you'll be surprised at how many could easily fit alongside today's online banner ads.

As Advertising Age reports, The Times isn't hosting the archive just for fun: it wants readers to help identify and catalog the ads because the algorithms developed by the newspaper's R&D lab aren't yet sophisticated enough to differentiate between multiple ads, or ads and editorial copy. The goal is to create a massive database of all The Times ads throughout subsequent decades that will be accessible for historians and the public. The crowdsourced effort doesn't carry any rewards of its own for participation aside from some arbitrary "points", but if you're an advertising junkie or wannabe Don Draper yourself, Madison is worth a look.