BAS Newsletter, 2000 vol. 17, no. 2

Business Archives Newsletter

2000 vol. 17, no. 2

  • Annual Meeting Roundtable Presentations
  • Challenges in the Archives
  • Business Section Roundtables
  • Member Updates 

 Annual Meeting Roundtable Presentations

Art Ponder, Archivist and Systems Analyst
DaimlerChrysler Corp.

My name is Art Ponder and I work as an archivist and systems analyst at the DaimlerChrysler Corporate Historical Collection, in Detroit, Michigan.

The Corporate Historical Collection assists the Corporation in many areas including marketing.  In addition, we work closely with the advertising agencies supplying materials, providing research and reviewing advertising.

I was asked to speak about our interaction with our research and development departments.  We do receive requests from various departments for information and photographs.  In most instances, we do not know if the information will be used for R&D.

In 1998, we worked with several agencies on Jeep advertising and promotions including Camp Jeep.  The advertising agencies want older or ”retro” materials to emphasize the Jeep heritage.  The military history and early Jeep photographs are often used as –bridges” to current models.  With Jeep advertising, the Jeep account representatives will often contact us directly, as we have become familiar with each other.  In other cases, someone from Marketing will contact us and request our assistance.

Another major campaign we worked on in 1998 was for the introduction of the Chrysler 300M.  How many of you have heard the nickname –The Beautiful Brute”?  Does anyone remember the slogan –America's Most Powerful Car”? Has anyone driven a Chrysler 300C? One of the challenges for this campaign was to inform potential buyers of the Chrysler 300 image, a powerful, performance automobile.  The C300, the first of the 300 series, utilized the 331 cubic inch hemi engine, which had helped to account for Chrysler's success in racing. According to one retiree, who worked with marketing, the goal of the 300 series was to attract a new generation of buyers for Chrysler cars.  According to Robert C. Ackerson, in his book Chrysler 300: America's most powerful car, Chief Engineer Bob Roger was receiving letters from Chrysler fans asking for a high performance car, prior to the 1955 models. The 300 was a performance car.  Each succeeding year the engines got larger and more powerful.  The last Chrysler 300-letter series car appeared in 1965 and the last of the original 300s were built in 1971. A revival of the 300 occurred in 1979, on the downsized Cordoba platform.

Since the last of the original 300s was built in 1971, many potential buyers may be unaware of the 300' history. The agencies we worked with had to familiarize themselves with the 300s and how they had been marketed in the past.  There were actually two campaigns: one for the U.S. market and another for the International market, each with a different focus.  The U.S. campaign looked for information to explore the performance aspect of the 300M, while the international campaign focused on the 300M as a driving machine. The 300M was also a slight departure from the 300 image À this car used front wheel drive and was a four door sedan.  The earlier 300 letter series cars were two door hardtops or convertibles but the two-door automobile has lost its appeal in recent years. 

The agencies especially wanted film or video clips for television commercials.  The video gets our attention and the time trial on the beach recalls the days of auto racing, which enhances the performance image.  Other ads capitalize on nostalgia, which may bring back memories from our past 

To summarize, we have supported and continue to support various activities within the Corporation.  We interact with advertising agencies, both directly and indirectly, as well as our Marketing Department.  We provide research, information and photographs, which may or may not be used, for R&D purposes.  Our advertising agencies and Marketing Departments perform the research to determine how they will market a product. The Corporate Historical Collection provides basic product information, photographs and other materials for their use.  




Ellen Gartrell, Archivist
Duke University 

As the 1990s have progressed, and especially as 1999 draws to a close, many of us archivists already may have had our fill of –millennium fever.”  I'd be surprised if any one among us has not been asked to look back into our collections to find out what The Corporation was doing 100 years ago.  The purposes for these fin-de-siecle historical requests may include creation of an anniversary publication or display, or very likely, something to do with marketing or advertising.

I will speak about what I have learned about nostalgia in advertising, drawing on eleven years of experience at Duke University's John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising & Marketing History and a variety of printed sources I think the first query that came to me that specifically got me thinking about nostalgia in advertising was about two years ago, when a journalist wanted to know whether the nostalgia campaigns and the pre-millennium fever that appear in some advertising today had had a parallel as the 19th century gave way to the 20th. A quick literature search did not yield an answer, so I spent an interesting hour flipping through the ads in several prominent general interest magazines of the late 1890s and especially 1899-1900.  It was hardly a scientific sample, but I saw not a single ad from the turn of the 20th century that made explicit reference to the dawning of a new era.  Nor was there any evidence of harking back to  –the good old days.” 

Some advertising of the late 19th century did use historical references, employing images of ancient Egypt or Rome or events in American history.  The use of such images, though, was more to provide a familiar frame of reference to an educated reader than to evoke what we would call nostalgic feelings in a prospective purchaser.

A number of factors influenced the relative lack of historical themes in late 19th century ads.  The advertising industry itself was in its infancy, its techniques only beginning to take shape.  Research on what would move consumers to buy, for example, was still several decades in the future.  Perhaps more important, the late 19th century was a time of dramatic technological developments, and people generally were looking forward, not back. A common advertising icon of the late 1880s-1890s was the Brooklyn Bridge, a tremendous engineering feat of its time.  The bridge appeared on trade cards to advertise a remarkable range of products having no connection to bridges or engineering or New York. Purveyors of soap and confections and other commodities only desired to associate their goods with progress, technology, and the future.

But today, as we prepare to enter another new century, we are, in the words of one writer, –awash in nostalgia.” This trend appears to have begun in the 1980s, when marketing campaigns began to employ 1960s music. The trend accelerated rapidly in the 1990s.  Commentators tend to agree on several factors that help account for it:

  1. It is the end of both another century and a millennium;
  2. Though times are prosperous, the pace of change is stressful, even frightening to many;
  3. The baby boomers are aging, entering a phase of life when looking back is natural;
  4. The boomers are a huge demographic bulge, at the peak of their earning power
  5. Young people have glommed on to old styles and images, creating a market for "retro chic"

Researchers long have recognized that a –fin de siecle effect” tends to promote nostalgia, defined as –an emotional state in which an individual yearns for an idealized or sanitized version of an earlier time period.” A new century seems to have a powerful effect on people's sense of the meaning of the past and the future.  It can provoke excitement and also anxiety. In the view of many observers, the awesomeness of the millennial change is heightened by the stresses of our fast-paced modern life.  Researchers cite the information glut, technology, and the depersonalization of modern business enterprises, as factors.

And the boomers.  Some of the huge population born between 1945 and 1960 already have empty nests and have amassed considerable disposable income. Some perhaps feel that more of life's joys lie in their past than in the future. Technologies have impinged on boomer lives and disrupted careers and expectations, with mixed results.  There is a widespread perception that boomers are insecure--in need of comfort foods on the one hand and sporty, youthful cars on the other…and that they are searching for substance, authenticity, and value for money. Insofar as these notions are true, boomers are a huge natural audience for retromarketing.

But what about the younger generations, dubbed X and Y, who didn't grow up with

Quisp or Thunderbirds?  Some researchers suggest that the 1990s lack a distinctiveness of their own, prompting borrowing of earlier trends and fads by youth, who create a campy –retro chic” image all their own. Their images of a time they never lived through are shaped by TV reruns--those caricatures of the 'real 1950s” that they see on –Nick at Night.”

What has been the nature of the nostalgia boom in advertising and what effect has it had on archives?

In the course of preparing this paper, I identified over 100 products or brands that have used one form or another of retromarketing in the 1990s.  I am sure this list is far from complete, but it does include a large number of familiar names: Old Navy stores, Planter's Peanuts, Borden's, and Ford are a few.  Marketers are attempting to capitalize on the research that shows that middle aged consumers –need some warm fuzzies from our past.”  Marketing targeted at this group is influenced by research that shows that 55% of Americans believe that the past was a better time than today, whereas in 1974, 54% reported that there was –no time better than the present.”  Most of the 55% who had fond memories of the past were reminiscing about the 1950s and 60s.

Not surprisingly, therefore, a great deal of today's retro advertising incorporates that mid-century period, when baby boomers were young and idealistic, times were prosperous: when we drank our Cokes from green contour bottles and drove VW Beetles.  As one marketing executive said, –Anything that brings me back to 1967 is gonna give me a good feeling.  That's the year I got my driver's license, I was thinking about girls....”  In 1997 Quaker Oats staged a contest to find a new child--a new Mikey--to promote Life cereal.  Why? Because –the minute you mention the [1960s] Mikey campaign in focus groups, you get word-for-word reenactments of the commercials and identification of the brand.” Similarly, with Volkswagen, when the –familiar bubble shape . . . makes people smile as it skitters by, the New Beetle offers a pull that is purely emotional.”

Advertisers are tugging at our heartstrings to get us to loosen our purse strings--a well-understood technique in advertising.

Ford and its advertising agency J. Walter Thompson Company have made extensive use of the JWT Archives at Duke for several nostalgia-related projects.  The thirtieth anniversary of the Mustang in 1995 prompted a flurry of interest; some TV commercials showed original Mustang models morphing into new ones. JWT also created an elaborate Mustang web site for Ford, drawing heavily on the print ad archives at Duke.  Such a web site leverages the brand equity.  As one auto analyst wrote about tapping a brand's legend, –It's not just how many you sell, it's how many people think about you.” Absence of archives has created examples of headaches for marketers--retro or otherwise.  The fellows who bought the rights to the defunct Canadian Lola drink, for example, found that the formula had been lost, so they had to recreate it.

In sum, nostalgia is one fairly prominent theme in advertising of the 1990s.  Does it work?  It depends whom you ask.  The success of retro-cable venture TV Land, and the continuing employment of real or fake historical icons in commercials, print ads, and billboards suggests that something is working.  Marketers express a variety of concerns, though. Some scoffers criticize the advertising industry for losing its creative drive and relying on –derivative behavior.”  A fairly frequent concern is that nostalgia ads most often target a limited, albeit large, population segment by focusing on baby boomers.  Is it a turnoff for the young, who might see it as stale or boring--or by not understanding the references at all, lose interest? One response to that has been to use old or faked old images in kitschy ways when targeting younger audiences.  Even lacking specific historical knowledge or personal experience, they will enjoy the effect.

Does nostalgia oversimplify history, skimming over the negatives in the effort to persuade consumers to buy?  It does, of course--in ads and other applications. Some writers note that nostalgia harks back to periods of racism or sexism that will alienate some viewers. Research is not yet conclusive on the overall sales results of nostalgic-themed advertising. 

A number of commentators have tried to predict the future of nostalgia-based advertising. Sociologist Seymour Levantman expects the trend to grow as long as the boomers still make up a large demographic segment of the population.  Others expect nostalgia to be used ever more creatively, to reach a broader range of consumers.  –Expect to see more decades colliding,” says one writer, who suggests that ads will be influenced by the restless individuality of the young and the example set by the cut-and-paste creations of hip hop artists. We'll all have to wait a few years to see what happens.

*For a complete version of this presentation, please contact Ellen Gartrell at Duke University

* For more information about the Hartman Center and its resources, please see the Center's website at]



cHALLENGES in the Archives 

By Peter N. Stearns, Provost,
George Mason University and Professor of History

As a partial outsider À a researcher who has used business archives here and in Europe with great profit to my historical work À the opportunities but also the responsibilities in maintaining business archives strike me as extremely important.

The issue of organizational memory looms large, admitting that at one level the needs are obvious. Organizations must have well-structured, accurate and accessible records of past policies, to guide future decisions and to contribute to a sense of identity and cohesion. Needs here have increased in recent decades not only because of the heightened pace of change, but also because of the growing rates of executive arrival and departure. As recently as the 1960s, far more top offices in organizations were filled by promotions from within than is now the case. The twin overs À turnover and takeover À make it far harder for current managers to know what a company was about even in the quite recent past. The result can be unnecessary errors À mistakes once made are simply repeated, because the precedent is unavailable; needless duplication, with constructive policies that might still apply simply forgotten; and a great deal of reinventing the wheel. One reason for the recurrent managerial faddism of contemporary organizations involves the simple neglect of earlier procedures which, perhaps under another, less flashy name, are mainly being revived amid the drums and trumpets of the latest guru. Organizational records, and the good sense to use them actively, assure against a number of errors and delusions.

But archives and their keepers must also remain in touch with larger disciplinary issues. Here I mean more than the latest techniques of cataloguing and digitalizing, significant as these may be. I also mean contact with responsible, critical scholarship in organizational history.

Organizations often, quite understandably, seek to draw from the records of their past a congratulatory self-portrait. Archives are combed for previous successes, as a basis for advertising or the kind of slick company history that can be handed out at shareholder meetings or used for fundraising. Well and good: kept within bounds, this is an appropriate as well as inevitable use of archives. (The impulse, in fairness, is also encouraged by a legal and public opinion climate too often ready to assume that past mistakes, once admitted, require ongoing opprobrium, which reinforces timidity in probing the full organizational record.)

Current enthusiasms for selective nostalgia now add to the desire to mine archives both selectively and superficially. It's obvious that, with an ageing baby boom generation and amid a number of anxieties about the present that are surprising given peace and prosperity, the impulse to reinvent the '50s or the '70s runs strong. I stress reinvent: nobody (or almost nobody; I'm not sure about Pat Buchanan) wants to revive McCarthyism or the blatant racism of the '50s, but rather its imagined family values. We want elements of the past, sugarcoated at that. And again, no problem up to a point. The mood allows businesses to seek past advertising symbols from their archives, to play on myths or memories of warmer childhoods, tighter families, bigger cars.

What's happening here involves uncertainties resulting from the end of the Cold War À a change that has yielded fewer tensions but also less clear targets for national identity À along with worries about the pace of technological change and the question of which controls what, man or machine. Add to this the pervasive (and disputable, by the way) sense of moral or character decline, and the desire to paint a brighter picture of the past can become almost overwhelming.

The result is a welcome spur to interest in archives of various sorts, but some obvious dangers as well. Whether for organizational self-promotion or nostalgia, highly selective uses of archives to create a past without warts or problems is extremely deluding and dangerous. Past problems and failures are at least as illuminating as achievements and a rosy glow. Here is where the link between archivists and other kinds of historians concerned with the organizational past becomes vital. Collectively, we must encourage organizational leaders to face the past as honestly and rigorously as (we hope) they intend to face the future À indeed, the two faces are intimately linked. The desire of the archivist for the whole record, and of the historian for interaction with the whole record, are essential counterweights to excessive selectivity.  Together, we must seek to promote a more frequent, analytical and sophisticated use of a vital source of organizational planning and evaluation.




Katie Dishman, Archivist/Research Librarian,
Chicago Mercantile Exchange


First, I'd like to say thanks to Cheryl Chouiniere, Eleanor Fye, and Steve Hausfeld for all their efforts to produce SAA's Business Section Newsletter. It's always a great resource for learning about past and future meetings, the activities at other corporate archives, and the personal archival experiences for edification. We are anticipating putting an electronic version of our newsletter out later this year. You can read more about the Business Archives Section's web page from Eleanor elsewhere in this newsletter.

BUSINESS Section Roundtables

I'd like to thank those who attended the last section roundtable, held at the Pittsburgh Hilton and Towers, and hope that you found it enlightening. The three speakers, Ellen Gartrell from the John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising & Marketing History at Duke University; Art Ponder of the DaimlerChrysler Archives; and Dr. Peter Stearns, Dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences from Carnegie Mellon University, discussed the increased use of archival imagery in advertising, particularly in light of the upcoming century/millennium. After the interesting presentations, we attended church. We probably would have been thrown out, but fortunately, it had been converted into a brew pub, and renamed the Church Brew Works. Many thanks to the organizations that contributed money to hold the event: IBM, Biltmore Company, Chicago Mercantile Exchange, Kraft Foods, and the Archdiocese of Chicago.

Although it seems a long way away, August will be here before we know it. Vice chair Craig St. Clair is planning a good session for this year's meeting in Denver. As in the past, we will have a Business Section event with a topical presentation followed by a social at a bar/restaurant.  This will be held on Wednesday, August 30. More information will be in the summer newsletter. 

Finally, as we enter into this new century and millennium, I fervently hope more corporations realize the need to preserve the past and will implement archival programs. 

If you would like to contact me or submit something to the co-editors for inclusion in the newsletter, see the Leadership List in this issue.  Thanks.



 MEMBER Updates 

Peter J. Bahra has joined American International Group, Inc. as Records Administrator in the Office of the President. He comes to AIG from the Cincinnati Museum Center in Cincinnati, OH, where he was Photograph Curator for over ten years. He has a Masters of Arts in Historic Administration from Eastern Illinois University.


Susan Box, Corporate Archivist for American International Group, Inc in New York City, was recently guest lecturer for Dr. David Gracy's Archives Management class at the University of Texas at Austin Graduate School of Library and Information Science. It was the first time a practicing business archivist had lectured the three hour class attended by 50 graduate students. In addition, she was a guest at the Student Chapter Meeting of the Society of

American Archivists where a lively discussion took place about working in the corporate environment.

In August William Casari began a new position as Forbes Archivist at Forbes Magazine in New York City. His duties at Forbes Magazine will include working directly with the Forbes family and the archival collections of the company as part of the Curatorial Department. Casari previously worked as a project archivist at American International Group in New York City.

Thomas P. Heard has joined American International Group, Inc. as Archivist in the AIGArchives Department. His primary responsibilities will be for the audio/visual collections. He comes to AIG from the National Canal Museum in Easton, PA, where he was Collections Manager for five years. Heard previously worked for the National Park Service and Boston Public Library. He has a Masters of Arts in History from Indiana University of Pennsylvania and attended the Modern Archives Institute in Washington, DC.

Leslie Wagner has been hired as Archivist for Methodist Hospitals of Dallas (MHD) in Texas.  Wagner originally worked as secretary for Methodist Hospitals, however was promoted after submitting a proposal for the establishment of a formal archival program. Her responsibilities include the accession and processing of records, initiation of an oral history program, and oversight of the compilation of a written history in preparation for MHD's 75th anniversary in 2002. A new member of SAA and the Business Archives Section, Wagner has an MA in History from the University of Texas at Arlington in Texas. She has also recently completed and been awarded archival certification from the same institution.

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