What’s Old is New Again in Television Advertising

Milton Berle Phillies Cigar Spokesperson


It’s been nearly eight decades since the first TV commercial break aired for Bulova Watch Co. just before the first pitch of a televised baseball game between the Brooklyn Dodgers and the Philadelphia Phillies in July 1941. Only two months earlier, the FCC approved of TV commercials. Once brands realized the power of television advertising it was the wild west. Ad Agencies thought they were going to be developing television shows along with all different formats of advertising.


In the early days, announcers would step away from the camera to read messages from Procter & Gamble, Goodyear, and more. Sometimes a product would be introduced to the audience from the stars as with Winston cigarettes plugged by Fred Flintstone. Other times, a brand would headline the show, like the 1950s series “The Pat Boone Chevy Showroom.” The singer would introduce the newest model as “the most important guest star of our show.”


When you look at the historical arc of broadcast advertising, advertisers have been continuously pushed away from the content of the show and relegated into their 30 second time spot. But that is starting to change. Three trends are forcing networks to look at creative ways to integrate with their advertisers: 1) In 2016, digital ad spending eclipsed television.; 2) Nielsen has recorded an 8 percent drop in prime-time TV viewing among the coveted 18-49 age ; 3) the traditional model has being uprooted by ad-skipping technology and services, like Netflix and Amazon Prime. These add up to a big problem for networks.



Networks and agencies have been forced to innovate or revisit some ideas from yesterday to cope with changes in the media landscape. They are bringing back old favorites like NBC’s Will & Grace and bringing advertisers to the party. With the launch the network and advertiser developed an “innovative” cross-platform partnership. “Will & Grace” prompted Honda to create a 90-second spot that features actors from the show in character, one of whom is driving a new Honda Accord. Another popular NBC show, “This Is Us,” recently joined with State Farm in a similar relationship. The insurer has produced family-themed ads that incorporate flashback sequences like those seen in the drama series. Voiceovers will even be delivered by cast members from the show. The State Farm ads will run during the live airing of the episode as well as video on demand, and the company will see additional distribution through social media and on custom pages on NBC.com.


Even late night shows are following this formula. In an effort to avoid being forced to let go of producers on his show due to budget issues, comedian Jimmy Kimmel decided to incorporate brands into segments of his show. While taping a week’s worth of shows in Brooklyn instead of his usual Los Angeles studio, Kimmel filmed a bit where he asked silly questions of local bartenders — complete with a Smirnoff logo on camera. And another late night host, Conan O’Brien, has spent several years pushing video games on his show in a segment called “Clueless Gamer,” where O’Brien and a celebrity guest will play the game on the show with plenty of humorous antics.


All that is old is new again in TV land. The concept of program integration by the guys who pay the bills is alive and seems to be working.