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Commercials Through History

According to Cambridge Advanced Learners Dictionary a commercial is an advertisement which is broadcast on television or radio. Due to shortness of this paper and broad spectre of meanings of commercials the paper will deal with a brief history of TV and radio commercials including some of the most interesting facts in relation with TV and radio ads.

How did it actually all begin? If we go way back in time, the old Egyptians used papyrus as a means to promote sale and different events which means that advertising is not that strange of a concept to the world. Since the invention of radio and later on TV, advertising has become a very effective means to different kinds of promotion.

“Broadcasting was originally developed as a means for companies to sell radios. But once commercial entities realized that many households were listening to their radios a significant amount of time every day, they started to explore this medium as a way to get their message across to the masses. If one has to choose a single event that began the era of radio broadcasting, it would probably be the radio program broadcast by station WEAF in New York City on August 28, 1922 This was a ten-minute advertisement for suburban apartment housing. By Christmas of that year, several major New York department stores joined the fray and were running advertisements for their stores.”

Since the first commercial aired the explosion of commercials started. A whole line of advertisement agencies were created to make commercials and to earn some profit out of it. The agencies were hiring creative people who would create ads and they even created a whole set of series intended to promote one product or another.

 The rest is history. Today, radio is a very powerful advertising tool. Millions of people still listen to radio daily because it has music, different kinds of shows intended for all ages and of course it airs commercials on regular basis. 

The radio of course is not a perfect tool for advertising since we have so many other means of promoting, but it certainly has some advantages:

  • Cheap – radio ads are cheaper to produce and can reach millions of people at the same time. The relative cost effectiveness is as compared to television ads, which are so much more expensive than any other form of advertising.

  • Impact – the impact made by a radio ad is greater than the impact made by any other medium of advertising. This is because radio ads are played at a time that can target a particular section of society or the masses. And also because they are repeated every hour or half an hour, so the impact is maximum.

  • Entertaining – leaving television ads aside, radio ads are the most entertaining way of advertising. The print media can get dull and boring, where as the radio allows for creativity in advertisements.

  • Cost effective – for those on a budget, radio advertising is very cost effective. It is cheaper than television ads and more attractive than print. It is the most preferred medium of advertising for local small businesses.“

Radio commercial surely have some advantages and these are:

  • Short life span – unless it is a very catchy jingle on the radio, most people forget about radio ads in a day. This is because most are jingles that last for 30 seconds and are heard a few times a day and then they go off the air. The life span of that ad is over and done with and people will just as soon forget about the ad and the product or service it was for.

  • Cost fluctuation – the problem with radio advertising is that the cost can fluctuate depending on the time slot selected.

Years passed, and television became a totally new invention that had sound and images. The advertising industry was now faced with a completely new situation, and was very cautious when considering the possibility of TV ads. The problem occurred when a doubt appeared: whether to consider a TV ad same as a radio commercial but with pictures, or do they need a completely new approach in handling TV ads? Advertising agencies came up with an idea to create a whole set of series dedicated to promote a single product like Coke Time, Colgate Comedy hour etc.

This idea was good for a while but the more people had TVs the more money companies needed to pay in order to have their own series that promoted their products.

NBC executive Sylvester L. "Pat" Weaver came up with a solution that would work and would also be very favorable to the networks. He introduced the "magazine concept" of television advertising. In this arrangement, the sponsors would purchase blocks of time (typically one to two minutes) in a show rather than be a sponsor for an entire show.”

This idea called the magazine concept allowed all companies to have their products promoted during different kinds of show, but the original plan was to have four commercials during one show. As television became more popular more and more companies wanted their products to be promoted on TV, so the system of “four per show” was terminated, and today, we can see more commercials than the movie or show itself.

 According to fMRI scans which demonstrate that the two parts of the brain most stimulated when watching audio-visual material (like TV and cinema) are the amygdalla (emotion) and the hippocampus (long term memory encoding). Emotions and long term memory = where brands live. Neuroscience studies from a variety of media companies (Viacom, GMTV and PHD) have confirmed this finding. This discovery shows that TV advertising definitely is a more powerful tool in promoting than radio, and today the most powerful one.
This evolution of magazine concept advertising is truly the birth of most modern television advertising. The one exception is the infomercial which is really a throwback to the sponsored show model used in the early days of television advertising.