A television advertisement is a span of television programming produced and paid for by an organisation that conveys a message. Advertisement revenue provides a significant portion of the funding for most privately owned television networks. The vast majority of television advertisements today consist of brief advertising spots, ranging in length from a few seconds to several minutes (as well as program-length infomercials). Advertisements of this sort have been used to sell every product imaginable over the years, from household products to goods and services, to political campaigns. The effect of television advertisements upon the viewing public has been so successful and so pervasive that it is considered impossible for a politician to wage a successful election campaign, in the United States, without use of television advertising. In certain countries, France for instance, political advertisement is forbidden on television.
The first television advertisement was broadcast in the United States at 14:29 on July 1, 1941, when the Bulova Watch Company paid $9 to New York City NBC affiliate WNBT (now WNBC) for a 20-second spot aired before a baseball game between the Brooklyn Dodgers and Philadelphia Phillies. It simply displayed a Bulova watch over a map of the U.S., with a voiceover of the company’s slogan “America runs on Bulova time!”
Many television advertisements feature catchy jingles (songs or melodies) or catch-phrases that generate sustained appeal, which may remain in the minds of television viewers long after the span of the advertising campaign. Some of these ad jingles or catch-phrases may take on lives of their own, spawning gags or “riffs” that may appear in other forms of media, such as comedy movies or television variety shows, or in written media, such as magazine comics or literature. These long-lasting advertising elements may therefore be said to have taken a place in the pop culture history of the demographic to which they have appeared. One such example is the enduring phrase, “Winston tastes good like a cigarette should,” from the eighteen-year advertising campaign for Winston cigarettes from the 1950s to the 1970s. Variations of this catchy dialogue and direct references to it appeared even as long as two decades after the ad campaign expired. Another is, “Where’s the Beef?“, which grew so popular that it was used in the 1984 presidential election by Walter Mondale. And yet another popular catch-phrase is “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up“, which still appears occasionally, more than a decade after its first use.
Advertising agencies often use humor as a tool in their creative marketing campaigns. In fact, many psychological studies tried to demonstrate the effect of humour and indicate the way to empower advertising persuasion.
Animation is often used in advertisements. The pictures can vary from hand-drawn traditional animation to computer animation. By using animated characters, an advertisement may have a certain appeal that is difficult to achieve with actors or mere product displays. For this reason, an animated advertisement (or a series of such advertisements) can be very long-running, several decades in many instances. A notable example is the series of advertisements for Kellogg’s cereals, starring Snap, Crackle and Pop. The animation is often combined with real actors.
Other long-running ad campaigns catch people by surprise, or even tricking the viewer, such as the Energizer Bunny advertisement series. It started in the late 1980s as a simple comparison advertisement, where a room full of battery-operated bunnies was seen pounding their drums, all slowing down…except one, with the Energizer battery. Years later, a revised version of this seminal advertisement had the Energizer bunny escaping the stage and moving on (according to the announcer, he “keeps going and going and going…”). This was followed by what appeared to be another advertisement: viewers were oblivious to the fact that the following “advertisement” was actually a parody of other well-known advertisements until the Energizer bunny suddenly intrudes on the situation, with the announcer saying “Still going…” (the Energizer Battery Company’s way of emphasizing that their battery lasts longer than other leading batteries). This subliminal ad campaign lasted for nearly fifteen years, and was obviously shown at random times on television, often in the least-watched time periods. The Energizer Bunny series has itself been imitated by others, via a Coors Light Beer advertisement, in motion pictures, and even by current advertisements by Geico Insurance.
Television advertisements appear between shows, but also interrupt the shows at intervals. This method of screening advertisements is intended to capture or grab the attention of the audience, keeping the viewers focused on the television show so that they will not want to change the channel; instead, they will (hopefully) watch the advertisements while waiting for the next segment of the show. This is a technique of adding suspense, especially if the break occurs at a cliffhanger moment in the show.
Entire industries exist that focus solely on the task of keeping the viewing audience interested enough to sit through advertisements. The Nielsen ratings system exists as a way for stations to determine how successful their television shows are, so that they can decide what rates to charge advertisers for their advertisements.
Advertisements take airtime away from programs. In the 1960s a typical hour-long American show would run for 51 minutes excluding advertisements. Today, a similar program would only be 42 minutes long; a typical 30-minute block of time includes 22 minutes of programming with 6 minutes of national advertising and 2 minutes of local.
In other words, over the course of 10 hours, American viewers will see approximately 3 hours of advertisements, twice what they would have seen in the sixties. Furthermore, if that sixties show is rerun today it may be cut by 9 minutes to make room for the extra advertisements (some modern showings of Star Trek exhibit this).
Back in the 1950s and 1960s, the average length of a television advertisement was one minute. As the years passed, the average length shrank to 30 seconds (and often 10 seconds, depending on the television station’s purchase of ad time). However, today a majority of advertisements run in 15-second increments (often known as “hooks”).
TV advertisements are being identified by an ISCI code.
In the U.S., the TV advertisement is generally considered the most effective mass-market advertising format, and this is reflected by the high prices TV networks charge for commercial airtime during popular TV events. The annual Super Bowl football game is known as much for its commercial advertisements as for the game itself, and the average cost of a single 30-second TV spot during this game (seen by 90 million viewers) has reached $2.7 million (as of February 2008).
Because a single television advertisement can be broadcast repeatedly over the course of weeks, months, and even years (the Tootsie Roll company has been airing a famous advertisement that asks “How many licks does it take to get to the tootsie center of a Tootsie Pop?” for over three decades), television advertisement production studios often spend enormous sums of money in the production of one single thirty-second television spot. This vast expenditure has resulted in a number of high-quality advertisements, ones which boast of the best production values, the latest in special effects technology, the most popular personalities, and the best music. A number of television advertisements are so elaborately produced that they can be considered miniature thirty-second movies; indeed, many film directors have directed television advertisements both as a way to gain exposure and to earn a paycheck. One of film director Ridley Scott‘s most famous cinematic moments was a television advertisement he directed for the Apple Macintosh computer, that aired in 1984. Even though this advertisement was aired only once (aside from occasional appearances in television advertisement compilation specials), it has become famous and well-known, to the point where it is considered a classic television moment.
Despite the popularity of some advertisements, many consider them to be an annoyance for a number of reasons. The main reason may be that the sound volume of advertisements tends to be higher (and in some cases much higher) than that of regular programming. The increasing number of advertisements, as well as overplaying of the same advertisement, are secondary annoyance factors. A third might be the increasing ability to advertise on television, prompting ad campaigns by everyone from cell-phone companies and fast food restaurants to local businesses and small businesses.
From a cognitive standpoint, the core reason people find advertisements annoying is that the advertisement’s offer is not of interest at that moment, or the presentation is unclear. A typical viewer has seen enough advertisements to anticipate that most advertisements will be bothersome, prompting the viewer to be mercilessly selective in their viewing. Conversely, if an advertisement strikes a chord with the viewer (such as an ad for debt relief shown to a viewer who has received a late notice in the mail), or has entertainment value beyond the basic message (such as the classic humorous spots for Wendy’s “Where’s the beef?” campaign), then viewers tend to stay with the advertisement, perhaps even looking forward to viewing it again.
Since the 1970s, advertisements featuring cigarettes have been banned from American TV. Advertisements for alcohol products are allowed, but the consumption of any alcohol product is not allowed in a television advertisement. Since the late 1990s TV advertisements have become far more diverse, and in addition household products and foods that are not new are no longer generally advertised as they were in the mid to late 20th century.
Since the 1960s, media critics have claimed that the boundaries between “programming” and “advertisements” have been eroded to the point where the line is blurred nearly as much as it was during the beginnings of the medium, when television shows were sponsored by corporations. The only programs that were exempt from this rule were news shows and information shows relating to news (such as 60 Minutes). Conditions on children’s programming have eased a bit since the period of the 1970s and 1980s.
In many European countries television advertisements appear in longer, but less frequent advertising breaks. For example, instead of 3 minutes every 8 minutes, there might be 6 or 7 minutes every half hour. Specific regulations differ widely from country to country and network to network. Unlike the U.S., in Europe the advertising agency name does appear at the beginning or at the end of the advert.
 United Kingdom
In the UK, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) is funded by a licence fee and does not screen adverts. Nevertheless, on the commercial channels, the amount of airtime allowed by the Independent Television Authority and its successors for advertising has risen from 7 minutes per hour in the 1970s to 12 minutes today. With 42-minute American exports to Britain, such as Lost, being given a one hour slot, nearly one third of the slot is taken up by adverts. Other programs such as WWE Raw, WWE Friday Night SmackDown! or ECW on Sci Fi show promotional material that would be in place of US advert breaks. Freeview has provided a cheap entry level alternative to Satellite and Cable subscription services and has taken the penetration of digital television well over 80%. The growth of Multi-channel television has changed the face of TV Advertising making the medium effective for companies with niche products and a targeted audience. 30-second advertisements on digital channels like Sky News, MTV or E4 can be bought for less than £50, and adverts on more targeted channels like the Business Channel, Motors TV or Real Estate TV for less than £5 per 30 seconds. New TV channels are launching every week in the UK and advertising opportunities are plentiful.
As in Britain, in Germany, public television stations own a major share of the market. Their programming is funded by a licence fee as well as advertisements on specific hours of the day (5 p.m. to 8 p.m.), except on Sundays and holidays. Private stations are allowed to show up to 12 minutes of ads per hour with a minimum of 20 minutes of programming in between interruptions.
In the Republic of Ireland, the main Irish broadcasters RTÉ and TG4 are funded by a television licence fee. Nevertheless both are permitted to screen up to 5 minutes of advertisement breaks every half hour (10 minutes every 1 hour) as defined by the Broadcasting commission of Ireland. TV3 and Channel 6 screen 12 minutes per hour.
In Finland, there are two mainstream non-commercial channels run by the state owned broadcasting company YLE, that run advertisements only on very infrequent occasions, such as important sport events. The three main commercial channels MTV3, SubTV (a subsidiary of MTV3), and Nelonen (“Number Four” in Finnish), all run their advertisements during breaks approximately every 15 minutes. Since digital TV has been introduced, the number of TV channels has grown, with YLE and the main broadcasters all adding new channels (including some subscription channels). Analogue broadcasts ceased in August 2007 and the nation’s TV services are now exclusively digital. A typical break lasts about 4 minutes. The length of individual advertisements can vary from a few seconds (7, 10 and 15 are common), but nowadays they are rarely over one minute in length. Many advertisements of supranational companies are dubbed from English language advertisements. Although Swedish is the other official language of Finland, the advertisements do not feature Swedish subtitles nor are any Swedish language advertisements shown. English language advertisements are also uncommon.
Russian advertising break includes 2 parts: federal and regional. It’s shown for 4 minutes and 15 minutes per hour. Now Russian Government intends to decrease TV advertisement because of TV channels rating reduction.
In the Philippines, TV networks regulate the amount of advertisements that is shown. For example, ABS-CBN shows over 30 individual advertisements every break, while GMA Network has advertising loads less than the given amount. Cigarette advertisements have been banned in the country. Every advertisements is in a commercials and every commercials last for about 4 to 5 minutes
Prior to the 1980s music in television advertisements was generally limited to jingles and incidental music; on some occasions lyrics to a popular song would be changed to create a theme song or a jingle for a particular product. In 1971 the converse occurred when a song written for a Coca-Cola advertisement was re-recorded as the pop single “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing” by the New Seekers, and became a hit. Some pop and rock songs were re-recorded by cover bands for use in advertisements, but the cost of licensing original recordings for this purpose remained prohibitive until the late 1980s.
The use of previously-recorded popular songs in television advertisements began in earnest in 1985 when Burger King used the original recording of Aretha Franklin‘s song “Freeway of Love” in a television advertisement for the restaurant. This also occurred in 1987 when Nike used the original recording of The Beatles‘ song “Revolution” in an advertisement for athletic shoes. Since then, many classic popular songs have been used in similar fashion. Songs can be used to concretely illustrate a point about the product being sold (such as Bob Seger‘s “Like a Rock” used for Chevy trucks), but more often are simply used to associate the good feelings listeners had for the song to the product on display. In some cases the original meaning of the song can be totally irrelevant or even completely opposite to the implication of the use in advertising; for example Iggy Pop‘s “Lust for Life“, a song about heroin use addiction, has been used to advertise a cruise ship line. Music-licensing agreements with major artists, especially those which had not previously allowed their recordings to be used for this purpose, such as Microsoft‘s use of “Start Me Up” by the Rolling Stones and Apple Computer‘s use of U2‘s “Vertigo” became a source of publicity in themselves.
In early instances, songs were often used over the objections of the original artists, who had lost control of their music publishing the music of Beatles being perhaps the most well-known case; more recently artists have actively solicited use of their music in advertisements and songs have gained popularity and sales after being used in advertisements. Famous case is Levi’s company which has used several one hit wonders in their advertisements (songs such as “Inside”, “Spaceman” and “Flat Beat”).
Sometimes a controversial reaction has followed the use of some particular song on an advertisement. Often the trouble has been that people do not like the idea of using songs that promote values important for them in advertisements. For example Sly and the Family Stone‘s anti-racism song, “Everyday People“, was used in a car advertisement which caused anger among people.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, electronica music was increasingly used as background scores for television advertisements, initially for automobiles, and later for other technological and business products such as computers and financial services.
- Political TV advertising
- Product placement
- Promo (television program)
- Television commercial donut
The introduction digital video recorders, such as TiVo, and services like Sky+, and DirecTV, which allow the recording of television programs onto a hard drive, also enable viewers to fast-forward through advertisements or automatically skip them of recorded programs. Many speculate that television advertisements will be eliminated altogether, replaced by Product placement advertising in the TV shows themselves. For example, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition advertises Sears, Kenmore, and Home Depot by specifically using products from these companies, and some sports events like the Nextel Cup of NASCAR are named after sponsors. Television programs delivered through new mediums such as streaming online video also bring different possibilities to the traditional methods of generating revenue from television advertising.
Another type of advertisement shown more and more, mostly for advertising TV shows on the same channel, is where the ad overlays the bottom of the TV screen, blocking out some of the picture. “Banners”, or “Logo Bugs”, as they are called, are referred to by media companies as Secondary Events (2E). This is done in much the same way as a severe weather warning is done, only these happen a lot more often. Sometimes these take up only 5-10% of the screen, but in the extreme, can take up as much as 25% of the viewing area. Some even make noise or move across the screen. One example of this is the 2E ads for Three Moons Over Milford in the months before its premiere. A video taking up approximately 25% of the bottom-left portion of the screen would show a comet impacting into the moon with an accompanying explosion, during another television program.
Google‘s Eric Schmidt has announced plans to enter the television ad delivery and optimization business. This is despite the fact that Google only has a text advertising business model at present. There are few details in place about how this may occur, but some have speculated that they will use a similar model to that of their business strategy directed at radio broadcast, which included the acquisition of operations system support provider dMarc.
Online video directories are an emerging form of interactive advertising, which help in recalling and responding to advertising produced primarily for television. These directories also have the potential to offer other value-added services, such as response sheets and click-to-call, which greatly enhance the scope of the interaction with the brand.
- ^ Oracle Education Foundation Television timeline
- ^ The Changing Shape of the Culture Industry; or, How Did Electronica Music Get into Television Commercials?, Timothy D. Taylor, University of California, Los Angeles, Television & New Media, Vol. 8, No. 3, 235-258 (2007)