50 YEARS OF TV ADS

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This week we will publish a special edition of Advertising Age hailing the 50th anniversary of the television commercial. It's a special occasion because critics and fans alike admit that TV commercials have had a tremendous impact on our lives; if not the commercials themselves, at least the money that funded the commercials that supported free television that brought the world into our homes.

This salute to a half-century of commercials comes at a critical time for both the advertising industry and the television industry. The means and modes of mass communication are changing. People can now pay money to avoid commercials, thanks to the premium cable channels. The major television networks, offshoots of the once mighty radio networks, now see cable companies, computer companies and telephone companies gearing up for an epic battle for the public's time and attention among various electronic audio-visual stimuli.

The head of America's largest advertiser has already sounded an alarm. Edwin Artzt of Procter & Gamble warned advertisers and agencies that they may be shut out of the new media-road kill on the information superhighway. We don't think advertisers' dollars will ever be unwelcome in the new media-the public cannot be expected to pony up the millions needed to finance these ventures-but today's traditional television commercial may be endangered. The legendary Fairfax Cone, several decades ago, described advertising as something you do when you can't call on someone directly. With electronic communication more and more getting to a one-on-one specificity, advertising will get closer to that personal call.

Yet that's not to imply that this special issue should be considered a salute to a bygone era. Electronic mass media advertising is still very much with us. More than that, many of the ads of the past 50 years embody brilliant concepts and executions that will be valid 50 years from now. Some TV ad pioneers knew instinctively, perhaps, how to touch the psyche and loosen the purse strings. It's called persuasion and it has existed as long as mankind. Those who will create the electronic messages that inform and persuade in the next half-century can be thankful for the legacy of TV's first 50 years of advertising.

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