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Back In the Day

When They Used To Market Cocaine

Through the 70s and 80s, one drug rules them all. That drug was cocaine.

Before it was rendered illegal, the sale of drug paraphernalia was big business. These vintage commercials show luxurious black sofas, sexy women, and lots of cocaine.

These advertisements, ripped from magazines such as Head, High Times, Rush and Flash offer a glimpse of the wide range of flashy gear and accessories offered to the cocaine connoisseur of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s.

The 1970s were a weird time, not least because you could apparently advertise cocaine in magazines despite this being the first decade of President Nixon’s Controlled Substances Act.

In June 1971, Nixon declared a war on drugs. He said that drug abuse was “public enemy number one in the United States”. Which is right where all of these ads were published.

The devices and gadgets up for sale include the practical, such as a spray to ease irritated nostrils and products to keep the powder dry and free of clumps. Then there’s more performative and ostentatious gear, including gold-plated razor blades and ornately carved, ivory snorting straws. For a drug as classy and luxurious as coke, a rolled-up dollar bill simply won’t do.

While the War on Drugs was underway — Ronald Reagan popularized that infamous phrase — and cocaine was still very much illegal, selling and marketing paraphernalia (“Not intended for illegal use!”) was a legitimate and lucrative business.

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Uh oh…there goes the Herald’s new revenue stream

The NZ Herald and Fairfax went all in on native advertising, hoodwinking readers into thinking that paid for articles were news.

But all that is about to come to a crashing halt. Software engineers have worked out how to block native advertising.

For publishers, ad blockers are the elephant in the room: Everybody sees them, no one talks about them. The common understanding is that the first to speak up will be dead—it will acknowledge that the volume of ads actually delivered can in fact be 30% to 50% smaller than claimed—and invoiced. Publishers fear retaliation from media buying agencies—even though the ad community is quick to forget that it dug its own grave by flooding the web with intolerable amounts of promotional formats.

A week ago, I was in Finland for the Google-sponsored conference Newsgeist. The gathering was setup by Richard Gingras and his Google News team, and by Google’s media team in London. Up there, in a  high-tech campus nested in a birch forest outside Helsinki, about 150 internet people from Europe and the United States were setting the  agenda for what is called an un-conference—as opposed to the usual PowerPoint-saturated format delivered in one-way mode. As expected, one session was devoted to the ad blocking issue. (I can’t quote anyone since discussions took place under the Chatham House Rule). Read more »