A Brief History on Television Advertising

Before the advent of television, advertising messages were delivered in a few different mediums such as print ads, on the radio, and in some cases via a door-to-door salesperson. The use of television advertising can be dated back to the year 1941, when the company, Bulova, ran a 10-second advertisement before a Brooklyn Dodgers game on a local channel promoting their watches. Those 10 seconds changed advertising and television forever. After an overwhelmingly amount of positive feedback, other companies like Gimbel’s Department Store and Firestone Tire, decided it was time to get in on this new wave of media.

During World War II, this type of advertising (and television broadcast in general) was discontinued in the United States in order that the country focus its resources and efforts toward the war. But when the war ended, it did not take long for television ads to catch fire once again, and this time it was even bigger.

In 1948, relatively few Americans owned a television set: less than one percent. Fast-forward six years, and that number jumped to almost one-third of Americans! This boom in popularity correlated directly with the popularity of television advertising eventually leading to the regulation of the advertising by the American Association of Advertising Agencies.

One of the first major changes to TV advertising was the idea of sponsored programs. Businesses started sponsoring entire television programs that either directly or indirectly featured their products. Popular companies such as Kraft, Colgate, and GE were just a few of the big names taking advantage of this movement and sponsored programming. The content of the show was controlled by the sponsor with some exercising their control more than others.

As the 60s came along, sponsored programs started losing steam and businesses no longer wanted to spend the money on sponsoring an entire show. Scrambling and needing a solution to prevent the cancelation of their own show, Sylvester Weaver, an NBC exec, came up with a new approach to attract companies to pay for advertising on television. Instead of one business covering the costs for an entire show, Weaver pitched an idea to sell spots to businesses to advertise during the program breaks, paving the way to the establishment of commercials. Typically lasting between 30 to 60 seconds, this allowed a single program to have up to eighteen different sponsors! TV commercials reigned supreme for many years to come, until the launch of the Internet.

In 2016, digital advertising took its place as the top advertising medium, well above television for the first time. With technology and the Internet expanding at exponential rates, there’s no telling how long the rise of digital will continue, but it’s predicted by year 2021 spending on TV advertising will make up less than one-third of client budgets. Teens, young adults, and even some of Generation X say they’re primarily using a streaming service to view programs. So, if video killed the radio star, does video face same fate at the hands of digital?