Expert Interview: The Evolution of TV Advertising

Posted on April 6, 2020 by Media Culture

Topics: Video

Few technologies have changed the way we live as much as television. It’s easy to take it for granted, or even to dismiss it in the age of the internet. But for decades, TV has transformed our lives and our culture. It serves as a powerful medium for messaging and advertising.

Recently we spoke with another media expert on media and advertising to learn how television has shaped advertising for them, and how it continues to evolve.

Darin Pearson has been teaching multimedia studies at Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University for nine years. Medill is one of the world’s leading schools of communication and mass marketing. Many of today’s most prominent journalists and marketing minds have studied there.

MEDIA CULTURE: When you consider all of the “traditional” media platforms, where do you think television rates as far as influence?

DARIN PEARSON: Nothing matches the impact of moving pictures on the human sensory system. There’s a phenomenon that takes place when a person sees an attractive or educational image that sparks interest in a subject or a product. Television, in a way that even the internet couldn’t do, soared in popularity so rapidly that it challenged existing media.

MC: When did you notice advertisers start to see that television could help them sell products?

DP: It was immediate, and the rate of growth was enormous. In the early 1950s advertisers were spending about $85 million on TV advertising, but within a few years, less than a decade, that figure was over $1 billion, and dwarfed radio. By the early 1960s, more ad dollars were being spent on TV than print. Newspaper revenue never recovered once the TV generation was born.

MC: Americans fell in love with TV. How did it shape a generation?

DP: As television penetrated the market, it meant you could have your product in every living room. Suddenly, advertisers had a powerful way to reach the most important demographic in the history of marketing: the housewife. At that time, say the 1950s, most families had one source of income, but the wife, the mom, she typically stayed at home. But women were crucial, they made many of the purchasing decisions. The proximity of TV and the scheduling of daytime programming helped strengthen that fact, and we still feel that today, even though the workplace is much more diverse.

Additionally, television commercials became a form of entertainment themselves. Originally, advertising on TV mimicked that of radio: “The Colgate News Hour” and so on. Initially, advertisers sought sponsorship opportunities because that’s what they knew [from radio]. Consumers saw the technology as something they had because of big business. Texaco and Manchester cigarettes made it possible for you to have a TV set in your home. But rather quickly, innovation elevated television advertising.

The television commercial became an art form. This was the era of advertising dominated by the Madison Avenue agencies like those depicted in Mad Men. Television advertising was no longer an interruption, it became part of the entertainment experience. People started talking about the best commercials like they did the TV programs. People started humming ad jingles.

MC: What do you like about ads on streaming television and video platforms?

DP: They can be more immersive. A traditional TV commercial was folded into a program schedule, and while it might have shared some characteristics with the content, it was negligible. Commercials today are content, and through algorithms the advertising is placed in the right place at the right time, to reach the right audience. It’s an exciting time because ad dollars can be analyzed in a way that we’ve never been able to before. Data is the currency of modern advertising, and streaming TV gives us real-time data and loads of it. There’s meta data in these ads. We can now that same day whether Ad A or Ad B is the winner. If we ask the right questions, advertisers can use that data to find success.

MC: What do you feel most companies don’t understand about television advertising?

DP: The low barrier to entry into the market. There was a time when you had to be Chevrolet or McDonald’s to get a commercial on television, but now the field is open to almost everyone. If you have the savvy, if you can find a market for your products and services, you can deliver that message at a fraction of the cost of what it once took. As a result, digital television advertising, in the form of Connected TV, is challenging radio and the internet for every dollar. It’s a win for the advertiser.

MC: How have you seen advertisers using Advanced TV?

DP: Streamed TV in a connected fashion, is changing the game because advertisers can now produce campaigns that target individual households and viewers. There was a shotgun approach to advertising before, even the ratings system was generic for so many years. But today they can practically pinpoint the ratings by neighborhood block-by-block. What does that mean for advertisers? They can program for specific demographics and get a far greater response to their advertising. Segmentation is happening in real-time.

MC: What trends do you think will be important in the future for advertisers considering television?

DP: Companies will need to diversify their ad spend. Consumers are sophisticated and messaging is so prevalent that there’s a lot of white noise. You can’t concentrate on one medium and capture market share, you must examine TV in all its forms: connected TV, cable, streaming, video being consumed on channels like Hulu and Netflix, and YouTube of course. Those channels are experimenting in real-time and they adjust every day, every hour practically. The smart advertiser is launching their boat into all those streams, to reach their consumer audience.

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