Television advertising is a form of a sponsored TV slot which aims to send promotional messages to viewers and convince potential customers to buy products or services offered by the sponsoring organization. Monies from TV advertisements account for a large part of commercial broadcasters' revenue. Advertising spots vary in duration according to the specific regulation in each country. National laws also define the appropriate content of advertising. Television advertising relies heavily on catchy jingles and memorable slogans. Research shows that the combination of sound and motion has a strong effect on potential customers, hence TV commercials are believed to be a highly effective form of advertising.
Apart from being considered the most powerful mass-market advertising media, the TV advertising market is also highly profitable. The prices paid by advertisers for TV commercials depend on the broadcasting time. The most expensive time, known as prime time, is between 18:00 and 19:00. Channels with different coverage also charge different rates for advertising: broadcasters with national coverage offer pricier advertising services than those with regional coverage. TV broadcasters' pricing policy depends also on the audience share of their programs.
The advertising industry experienced dramatic changes in the 20th century together with the advancements in technology. The first radio ad broadcast was aired in the 1920s in the United States. After the first spot - a ten-minute ad about real estate - a number of leading US companies were eager to advertise their products and services on the radio. The first TV commercial in the world was broadcast in July 1941, also in the United States. The ten-second advert about a watch making company was aired on NBC before a baseball match.
Full-time TV broadcasting started in 1948 in the post-war US society. As the number of TV sets in the United States reached a critical mass, the advertising industry identified the new media as a communication channel of strong potential. The booming development of TV advertising required regulatory measures. Hence, the American Association of Advertising Agencies, set up in 1917, assumed a more important role in the ad market.
The 1950s were marked by the dominance of single-sponsor TV programs, where one company financed a TV show and used it to promote its products. Advertising practitioners started producing TV programs, whose titles included brand names of food companies or soft drink makers. This model remained widespread for several years, until broadcasters raised prices, reassured by the increasing number of viewers.
The change in the TV market revolutionized the relationship between advertising specialists, advertisers and broadcasters. New market conditions led to the emergence of a new form of TV advertising, which enabled sponsors to buy several minutes of broadcasting time to advertise their products. By the 1960s, advertising slots, known also as commercial breaks, became widespread in TV. Hence, different companies managed to advertise their products in the same TV program. Subsequent development of the TV ad market was marked by the debate in society about the promotion of controversial products, such as cigarettes. Tobacco advertising in the United States was banned in the 1970s.
By the 1990s, the duration of commercial breaks increased to 19 minutes and celebrities were recruited to advertise products on TV. The television ad market experienced another dramatic change with the foray of cable television. This trend gave access to smaller companies to TV commercials, which were until then reserved mainly for larger advertisers. The late 1990s saw the launch of TiVo - an electronic TV programming schedule - which enabled viewers to skip the advert slot. In Europe, the European Union (EU), legislation restricts commercial time to 12 minutes per hour. Regulatory issues relating to TV ads remain the subject of heated debates in society. Controversial advertising touches upon different sensitive issues such as religion, culture or sex. Commercials of condoms, deodorants and perfumes often seek to provoke the viewers. The United States imposed a ban on tobacco advertisements on TV and radio in 1971. In the European Union, however, tobacco ads were banned in 1991 with the adoption of the Television Without Frontiers Directive. The promotion of alcoholic beverages is also highly regulated. Swedish law, for example, forbids the advertising of alcohol.
The disadvantages of TV advertisements include their high costs, time-consuming production and short life cycle. Furthermore, viewers can more easily confuse slogans or forget the message of the advertisement due to the large amount of commercials broadcast.