30 Quiz-show scandals change TV buying
Viewers are treated to a more exciting TV format in 1955, when CBS debuts its quiz show, "The $64,000 Question." CBS is soon followed by a slew of other quiz shows including "Tic Tac Dough" and "21." The shows are characterized by brainiac contestants who can nail lines from obscure literature and answer complex science problems. Much of action and suspense in the quiz shows is derived from the mental pain of the contestants' writhing before responding to questions.
As the prize money rises, so does viewership, with "21" reaching a peak of 50 million viewers. One contestant, James Van Doren, is telegenic and ends up on Time magazine's cover.
By 1958, a number of disgruntled former participants say the shows are rigged. They allege that they were coached not only on what the questions would be, but also on how to respond. The revelations about the falsity of the shows sparks a backlash against not only the shows and their producers, but the networks that aired them. Members of the quiz show business and contestants all steadfastly lie that they had not been coached until Congress gets involved and the issue is referred to the House Committee for Un-American Activities.
Mr. Van Doren's testimony before the committee is much anticipated. After he admits his deception under oath, the issue provokes new legislation, and it is now a federal crime to rig a quiz show. For advertisers, though, the quiz show scandals of the 1950s change the way they buy television. Previously a single sponsor would own a show; following the scandals, networks decide to break up their airtime into 30-second increments and sell it to multiple broadcasters.
29 Birth of the daytime soap opera
A broadcast institution and advertising gold mine is born between 3 and 3:15 p.m. Monday, Oct. 10, 1932, as the "Betty & Bob" radio show takes to the air for General Mills over NBC Blue. Soon, some disdainfully describe this format as the "soap opera" due to the kind of sponsors that support it. But this type of program is destined to span mass media, jumping easily to TV. Targeted exclusively to women by advertisers of household package-goods, soap operas breathe sudden value into hitherto unsold network time blocks.
"Betty & Bob" is the first daytime serial produced by Frank Hummert and Ann Ashenhurst (Ann Hummert after their marriage in 1935). Mr. Hummert is a writer with the Chicago agency Blackett-Sample-Hummert. Ms. Ashenhurst joins in the early '30s as his assistant. Within six years, B-S-H is buying more radio time than any other agency, and the increasingly reclusive Hummerts are churning out a dozen soaps for such advertisers as Procter & Gamble Co. and American Home Products Corp. Some of their popular fare includes "Ma Perkins" and "Our Gal Sunday." By 1950, soap operas have expanded to TV. Among the shows delivering loyal viewers for advertisers, are: "All My Children," "Days of Our Lives," "Edge of Night, "Guiding Light" and "Search for Tomorrow."
28 HotWired runs first Internet advertising
HotWired runs the first Internet banner ad in 1994, and a new ad medium is born-one worth $7 billion within a decade. AT&T Corp. purchased the ad as part of its "You will" campaign. Banners initially enjoy clickthrough rates as high as between 10% and 40%, but by 1997, response drops to about 1%. Still, banners continue to evolve into a number of shapes and sizes and formats including pop-ups and pop-unders.
Also in 1994, the search engine is born. It launches in February as Jerry's Guide to the World Wide Web and consists of home-brewed lists of links developed by David Filo and Jerry Yang. Before long, it becomes Yahoo, an acronym for "Yet Another Hierarchical Officious Oracle." By the fall, Yahoo experiences its first million-hit day.
27 Remote-control device arrives
Philco Radio & Television Corp. spends a proud day in May 1938 showing off its new "mystery control" device to the press and its sales distributors. The concept will one day evolve into a blessing for couch potatoes and a bane for admen. But initially, Philco's gizmo comes in two models and can pick up one of eight preset radio channels anywhere in the home.
Its more important, but yet-to-be-exploited, feature is the ability to change the volume on the radio, making the "mystery control" the first broadcast remote control device. At a sale price of $159.95 for the base model, the original target for Philco's ad agency, Hutchins Advertising Co., Rochester, N.Y., is the luxury market. The campaign for the mystery control was Philco's largest to that point, with spending in the millions.
The remote control irrevocably changes listening and viewing patterns, and, in fact, the entire broadcast experience. No longer are sedentary users locked into one channel. Without the remote control, the rise of cable networks like HBO and Showtime would have been inhibited if not impossible. Can you imagine viewers getting up to change 100 or more channels? The new century dawns on a Remote Control World, in which the devices are made for everything from TVs to toilets.
26 Vance Packard's 'Hidden Persuaders'
The rise of Vance Packard's "The Hidden Persuaders," published in 1957, to the top of best-seller lists is fueled by a terrifying thesis: Advertisers are trying to control people's minds. The idea is marketers-enlisting legions of psychologists and such tools as "depth interviews" and "motivation research"-are picking through the public's knotted neuroses and desires to craft messages with subconscious appeal.
One highlighted tactic is "subthreshold" advertising, better known as "subliminal advertising," in which messages are flashed on movie screens to motivate behavior. The book cites an alleged instance that drove up ice cream sales at a movie theater. Popular outcry over that tactic leads to networks and media saying they won't allow it.
A half-century later, "The Hidden Persuaders" offers an interesting peek at how marketers struggle to figure out what makes people tick and how to sell to them. And to be sure, marketers have long relied on appeals to vanity or anxiety to sell products and services. But it's also clear that the book vastly overstates the use and efficacy of "motivation research." And the fear that by 2000 "biophysicists" could control "mental processes, emotional reactions and sense perceptions by biolectrical signals" apparently hasn't come to pass. Indeed, today marketers are having trouble getting people to watch ads or pay up for a brand. Forget about controlling them.
Contributing: James B. Arndorfer, Claire Atkinson, Beth Snyder Bulik, John McDonough, Kris Oser