TV Advertising Wrapped in Mystery

January 23, 2015 / Features

By Jacqueline Holmes

Advertisers 60 years ago were really thinking outside the box.

Mixed emotions of anticipation, wonder, nerves, excitement and challenge were washing through the advertising world this time 60 years ago. The agencies and brands were gearing up for the advent of commercial TV in this country which would take to the air later in the year. The event would have a major impact on the established industry.

Poster advertisers were already declaring they were here to stay and facing the competition head on with the promotion of Teleposters. In January of 1955 they told the trade: “Advertising on TV [is] still wrapped in mystery, but advertising next to TV is here – and here to stay!”

Teleposters were the new thing – printed panels measuring 10in by 8in to be placed around TV sets.
“The public aren’t (sic) waiting for commercial TV with bated breath. They’re looking at it now, and wise advertisers are going to make use of their steady gaze” claimed an advertisement in the trade press for Teleposters.

It was envisaged that viewing habits would be changing and televisions would appear in bars and clubs, canteens and waiting lounges. This view did not foresee the television set becoming a part of everyday domestic furniture, watched by millions daily in their homes and that it would take decades to become a regular feature of public venues.

Chloe Veale, director of the History of Advertising Trust (HAT) said:
“The idea of Teleposters very much reflected the innocent, probably naïve, period before TV commercials became part of the domestic scene. They missed the point that the advertising would be on the screen, not around it! It is somewhat bizarre that community screens are now so commonplace in public spaces.”

The main agencies and the big companies faced up to the new medium, preparing for the arrival of commercial TV and its attendant problems and challenges. After all, filmed commercials had only been seen in this country in cinemas, a totally different environment to the cosy family living room and attracting a different demographic of viewer.

Meanwhile the British Transport Commission upped its campaigns to attract advertisers to its poster sites on the Underground and buses. The ‘advantages’ of poster advertising were further professed by the British Poster Advertising Authority. It took out a page in Advertiser’s Weekly in January 1955 advising clients to: “Put the case” (in newspaper or on TV) and “Drive it home”. The tag line was “Posters complete the campaign with repetition in colour”. It has to be remembered that colour would not replace black & white on ITV until 1969. During the1950s, poster advertising was an integral part of the street scene. Corners devastated by the Blitz had become poster oases screening the dereliction from view with colourful hoardings.

Packaging was another area of production recognition causing problems for the modern advertiser moving to TV.  Product packaging was designed to be colourful and catch the eye of the shopper. Now well-known brands would be seen in black and white – some of the bright colours translating on film to murky grey.

The ads that appeared in the January 1955 edition of Advertiser’s Weekly, two of which are illustrated here, reveal extraordinary responses to the the changes and challenges that the established advertising industry faced 60 years ago as the nation prepared for the arrival of commercial television. These ones were discovered tucked away within an original edition of this now very rare journal preserved on HAT’s library shelves.

Through HAT’s unique advertising archive collections the full story of the development and impact of the new advertising medium can be tracked, pieced together and told in this special 60th anniversary year. With over 100,000 TV commercials dating from 1955 to 2015 complemented by original documents, ad agency records, contemporary data and publications, the contents of HAT Archive are a national treasure trove.

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