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Happy birthday, TV ads! Today marks the 75th anniversary of the first TV commercial


TV viewers in 2016 can only go a handful of minutes at a time without being inundated by ads on most networks. Seventy-five years ago, though, such advertising was only in its infancy. In fact, it wasn’t until July 1, 1941 that what is considered the first TV commercial hit airwaves, as Ad Age reports. The ad, just 10 seconds long, came from Bulova, a watch and clock manufacturer.

The ad aired during America’s pastime: an MLB game — specifically, the Dodgers vs. the Phillies. Bulova’s ad was only aired in the New York market on the NBC-owned WNBT, meaning only the few thousand people who owned TV sets in the area could view it. Given the limited audience and the experimental nature, the company didn’t have to shell out the kinds of dollars that advertisers do these days, though — the price was only about $4.

As you can see above, the ad bears little resemblance to the commercials we see today. Its quality is undeniably low by current standards, with its shaky image, simple graphics, and lack of action; researchers had yet to discover that entertaining ads are more enjoyable to viewers. It did usher in a new era, though, with additional commercials coming to TV within just days, including ads from Adams Hats, Procter & Gamble, Lever Bros., and more.

The commercial became an integral part of advertising in subsequent decades, but it has since moved beyond its prime. Viewers have become tired of the amount of ads we see per hour of TV, and networks have been scrambling for alternatives to avoid losing ground to commercial-free competitors, like streaming services. Still, there is no arguing the impact that TV ads have had on us all, especially in their heyday.

However you feel about TV advertising, it is interesting to see how far they’ve come in the past 75 years. Here’s to you on your birthday, commercials!

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Stephanie Topacio Long
Stephanie Topacio Long is a writer and editor whose writing interests range from business to books. She also contributes to…
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