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Rolling Stone: Perception. Reality

By the 1980’s, Rolling Stone Magazine had solidified its position as the premier music and entertainment publication in America. Once a fringe magazine heralded by the counter culture of the 1960’s, Rolling Stone had become a mainstream outlet for popular culture, adopted by young affluent readers. At the time, however, most advertisers didn’t recognize this shift in readership and the magazine’s advertising revenue suffered.

In 1985, Rolling Stone Magazine and the Fallon agency unveiled an ad campaign aimed to change the perceptions of potential advertisers and prove that their readers had outgrown the hippie persona that was long associated with the magazine.

“Perception. Reality” was a simple concept with a powerful impact. The layout was sparse, focusing on two opposing images. On the left page would be an image, a VW bus or some pocket change, with the word “Perception” above it. On the facing page was the word “Reality” with an image of a sports car or credit cards. The accompanying copy was cheeky at first glance but contained reader purchasing-power statistics that simply couldn’t be ignored. The message was clear. Rolling Stone readers had grown up into valuable consumers and it was time for advertisers to take notice.

In the first year alone, Fallon’s work boosted ad revenue at Rolling Stone by close to 50%. For the next ten years the ad would run in 60 different iterations making it one of the most successful and iconic advertisements of the past century.