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Short History of TV Advertising 1950s - 1980s

Short History of TV Advertising 1950s - 1980s

By Billy Ingram

Television advertising really came of age in the 1980s.

In the 1950s, the TV medium was so new advertisers basically created the same commercials they would have for radio, only now you could see the spokesperson and the product. For instance, in a refrigerator ad, a model might point out all of the various features of that brand. Keep in mind, refrigerators themselves were a relatively new product. The biggest advertisers were for flour, sugar, gasoline, coffee, Jello, cigarettes, automobiles and other basic staples of life. Packaged foods like TV dinners and Fritos corn chips were just starting to become widely available.

 

In the 1960s, advertisers came to realize just how powerful television ads could be. Cereals with a higher sugar content were marketed to children, as were fad-driven toys like Hula Hoops, Superballs, Barbie dolls, and the like. Marketing execs blanketed television screens with products not seen before: novel snack foods, suntan lotion, frozen foods, (and cigarettes and cars) reaping millions of dollars for their efforts. The largest advertisers in the 50s & 60s sponsored specific shows, picking up the costs of those programs in exchange for exclusivity - as such they had more power over the content of those programs than the networks did. The middle of the decade introduced color to TV commercials.

 

The 1970s saw the networks becoming more independent, selling ads for a number of different products on each of their programs with no exclusivity. This was due to increased demand, if your product wasn't advertising on TV you just weren't seen, for the most part. Fast food franchises were everywhere by this point, bolstered by extensive ads on TV.

 

If 1970s' ads were all about who we were, 1980s' commercials were all about who we wanted to be

By the 1980s advertisers had learned, through extensive testing and focus groups, how to fine tune their message with music, color, kinetic imagery, and beautiful smiling people who's lives seemed ideal. Commercials in the 1950s / early-1960s commercials tended to run 60 seconds. By the 1980s, Americans' attention spans had shortened, 30 second ads were almost always the case. At the end of the decade, Cable TV was responsible for an explosion of TV commercials as it became cheaper to buy air time.

Here are some prime examples of 1980s ads for television.


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