Looking to the future in 1975: JWTrends

26 October 2018

Area Studies | Cultural Studies | History

When working on J. Walter Thompson: Advertising America, released earlier this year by Adam Matthew Digital, I was struck by one of the many company newsletters which feature in the archive, and not only because of its jauntily diagonal title.

Produced weekly by the Information Center of J. Walter Thompson’s Chicago office, JWTrends offered advertisers insights into the latest technological, social and economic news and research. Initially presented as a newsletter for JWT’s Chicago office alone upon its launch in 1974, by early 1975 this weekly, single-page newsletter could boast that it was a ‘digest of news… of interest to those in the advertising and marketing community’, suggesting a wider circulation than just the staff of one Thompson office. JWTrends was not simply a vehicle for sharing news which the company’s staff might find useful; rather, it was an advertisement for the canny ability of JWT researchers to realise which developments might impact the industry in the coming weeks, months, years or decades. These bulletins represent conscious attempts to understand what the future might look like, and an insight into what particularly interested Thompson’s researchers. Projections of how the economy might fare in coming months sat check-by-jowl with some much more profound suggestions and predictions.

The issue of 20 January 1975, for example, reported that in the near future, newspapers were to become ‘more compact [and] more costly’ and that American tastes in drinking had ‘shifted appreciably' – albeit with the proviso that ‘trends, ideas and products don’t always materialise’. A reminder, then, that not every startling prediction featured in the pages of JWTrends might not come true. Indeed, the concept of clothing cut by lasers, fused together rather than stitched, and tried on in a fitting room featuring a ‘heliograph-type mirror’ is not quite with us in 2018 – although the use of ‘computerised debit’ most certainly is.

Image © Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising & Marketing History, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University. Further reproduction prohibited without permission. To see this document in the collection, click the images in the blog.
Image © Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising & Marketing History, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.

Of particular interest, though, is the very first article of the 1975 series, which informed readers that ‘the current “wave of the future”’, the microcomputer, could have a major ‘impact on society’, given its ability to ‘communicate with telecommunications devices… other microcomputers, or other large computers’.

Image © Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising & Marketing History, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.

Exactly what I’m doing to share these predictions today - but perhaps a surprising development to some mere decades ago.

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About the Author

Matt Brand

I joined Adam Matthew Digital in the autumn of 2016 as an Editorial Assistant. My main academic interests are British politics and diplomacy during the mid-nineteenth century, particularly in relation to refugees and asylum.

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