Lessons from the space age

Why Lou Dorfsman’s classic 1962 print ad for CBS is made from the right stuff

CBS Lou Dorfsman
Designer: Lou Dorfsman. Agency: CBS advertising and sales promotion. Year: 1962

Look! A decent press ad. (Oh, and a rocket.) This month’s offering by designer Louis ‘Lou’ Dorfsman is from the 60s. When the ads were black and white, just like the televisions. It’s for TV channel CBS, who ran it as a glorious full-page ad in the New York Times on Friday January 26, 1962.

The idea and layout though, in common with most great work, are timeless. Okay, I admit it. A few things do date this ad. Its quality, its sophisticated use of a graphic idea, its cool, clever headline, its use of long copy, and the absence of a dumb, embarrassing endline. Yep, the advertising industry has certainly advanced these days hasn’t it. Right around the U-bend.

My strong advice to any young creative today is ‘know your history’. Study the countless sublime pieces of communication from the New York creative revolution of the 1950s and 60s. You will most definitely learn something. Then go and teach your gimmick-obsessed ECD. Because someone bloody well has to.

So what exactly can we learn from this wonderful ad, designed to announce the TV coverage of America’s first attempt to orbit the earth?

The first thing we notice is a giant ‘stars and stripes’. Referencing of course the US flag. And what a clever juxtaposition, to have a photograph of a rocket shooting upwards towards the graphic stars. Even better, to have it powering to the stars through a dark stripe of the flag.

And what about the words? What do they say and how do we arrange the typography? Again, a clever headline links the idea of rockets to America by referencing a lyric from The Star Spangled Banner, the US national anthem. So clever.

Of course, if they had used PDFs and email to present work in the 60s, and if the clients had used smartphones to look at those emails, then the size of the headline would have been rejected when viewed on such a small screen. But remember, this is a full page newspaper ad. The headline is plenty big enough. In fact, any bigger and it would ruin the graphic effect by fighting with the stripes.

To finish off the communication, a few hundred words of body copy are precisely set in justified columns to fill some of the white stripes. The short line length and small sub-heads breaking up the copy just enough to offer an inviting read yet not destroying the graphic impact. Again, the art direction draws attention to, and links back to the nationalistic theme. Even the logo is perfectly positioned (and beautifully designed I might add, by William Golden).

This ad really couldn’t be much better. Look! And learn.

Paul Belford is the founder of Paul Belford Ltd, paulbelford.com, @belford_paul

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