The evolution of the TV commercial.

The very first TV commercials understandably, looked and felt a lot like radio commercials.

The big money was still in radio. Who knew if this television thing would ever take off?

So initially, there was a lot of tedious filmed radio style testimonials on the very visual medium of TV.

Then the medium took off like a motherfucker in the USA. And the rest of the world wasn’t far behind.

And everyone understandably scrambled to get a handle on this amazing new medium. It was probably a lot of fun.

And the best of the bunch exploited the fact that you could “show” things on the TV.

So product demonstrations were the order of the day. They were, and still are, a fundamentally great use of the medium.

You can show how your product works on film.

And that must have been the tipping point for advertisers. The ability to see your brand in action was a killer app. It was brand porn! With a huge audience. Sign me up.

Interesting side note: A fascinating and very illuminating fact about early TV commercial productions is the fact that it was left to agency producers to both write and produce the TV spots. How quaint!

And then someone, who probably really wanted to be a screenwriter, realized that TV commercials could elicit emotion too. You could create little films.

This is the mid-late 1960s or so.

By now the entirety of America was solidly glued to their TVs every evening. And the rest of the world wasn’t far behind.

Advertisers finally had ‘em! Happy days were here!

Brands started to realize that they could establish an emotional bond with their captive TV couch bound audience.

And ad agencies, of course, started to milk the situation. And they started producing woeful propaganda that they knew they could simply carpet bomb into the nation’s consciousness.

It was a wonderful time. We’re talking 1970s here.

And then there came of age a generation of ad folks who actually wanted to be in advertising because they’d grown up staring at the TV and actually liked the TV commercials.

They were the TV generation kids!

And they decided that TV advertising was about being entertaining. People were purely watching TV programming to be entertained, maybe the ads should wisely mimic this.

And then suddenly, it’s the 1980s. TV is by far the dominant medium. It has attained white hotness as a cultural force.

Michael J Fox and Pepsi? Why not?

And it’s an awesome spot. It’s cinematic, dramatic and asthmatic.

It should be pointed out that about this time the concept of “brand planning” evolved.

And its rise with that of TV as the dominant medium is not uncoincidental.

Back then every brand was on TV. And so the only way to differentiate yourself was “how you said what needed to be said”.

TV was always the answer, what’s your brand’s problem again?

I would argue that since TV no longer is the single most dominant medium, the whole concept of brand planning should be rethought entirely. And I’m not sure it has.

Love to find out how wrong I am dear planner readers ;-)

And then the 90s roll along. And not much has changed.

So the old formulas persist. Because they still work. But the comedy is getting more aggressive and ironically knowing. We all get that it’s an ad. It’s part of the joke now.

And then along comes something called the internet.

But TV is still TV. Right?

Well kind of right.

Things are changing though.. But only if you’re paying attention.

And a lot of people have a vested interest in not paying attention.

Especially among the bigger agencies, who had sort of devolved into TV production facilitators rather than the brand thinkers they’d started out as back in the proverbial day.

TV production didn’t necessitate strategic thinking. So that part of the ad brain got a bit wilted over the years.

And you have to remember that the traditional, classic, TV spot story structures assumed TOTAL attention.

You are watching this right?

Now there is a mighty big assumption at the best of times.

But the best of breed in the ad game understands that the consumer’s attention is splintering.

But it takes a while for young creatives to come along who have internalized this change in media consumption and create work that effortlessly incorporates everything happening right now.

TV is now just part of a larger and much more complex media ecosystem.

But kickass video is still the shortest path to your Facebook wall. And being on national TV is still the best seeding program on the planet. People still like watching TV.

Budweiser Whassup! was on the super bowl. Old Spice Guy was on the super bowl. People sometimes conveniently forget that bit and go right to the “viral” success part of it. Success ain’t free.

Which leads us to this gem from the modern age.

And guess what, it’s an annoying jingle that repeats the brand name over and over and over.

And it’s awesome.

Plus ca change!

2 responses to “The evolution of the TV commercial.

  1. love it. one of your best posts ever.

    write 100-200 pages and turn it into a book.


  2. Pingback: The evolution of the spot « Ingenuity Lab

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