TV advertising's come a long way in 60 years

Nick Reid charts the journey from the first, lottery-placed TV ad in 1955 to a future shaped by programmatic trading.

Oreo: Mondelez International used programmatic technology to place ads during the Super Bowl
Oreo: Mondelez International used programmatic technology to place ads during the Super Bowl

I have always been a firm believer that companies and industries, like people, reflect their age. But, far from well-worn images of a 60-year-old anticipating retirement, slowing down and planning a sunset cruise, TV advertising is more sprightly than ever. OK, so recent announcements may have pointed towards a slight decrease in TV viewing but, let’s not kid ourselves, TV remains the most powerful brand advertising tool in the business.

Back when that first ad, for Gibbs toothpaste, was placed, Brian Palmer, the Young & Rubicam copywriter responsible for it, was told: "[Television] will never be a major medium." Survive it did, however, through the introduction of colour, the golden age of TV advertising and the dawn of online – with some of the best spots, such as those for PG Tips, Milk Tray and Guinness, entering our collective consciousness.

When thinking about what the future of TV advertising looks like, I firmly believe that the creative will continue to push boundaries and excite consumers in fresh ways as new technologies come online.

However, the short-term future will be most exciting behind the scenes. And we are already seeing it come to life in the form of programmatic TV.

Back in 1955, no-one knew which ad would be first on screens. According to Palmer, his spot had won a lottery against other brands, including Guinness, Surf and Summer County margarine, for the right to prime position. Today, that kind of vague placement would never be permitted as brands plan their media down to the minute in order to ensure effective targeting and market reach.

Programmatic TV allows brands greater control and flexibility, even on premium content. Mondelez International has already tested the waters through its programmatic ad booked during the Super Bowl earlier this year and there is definitely more to come. In fact, in Digital TV Europe’s recent report on the future of TV advertising, programmatic buying was cited as "likely to become ever-more prominent". More­over, almost 90 per cent of the video industry players surveyed agreed that programmatic buying will "either determine the future of TV advertising or play an increasingly significant role".

Why this programmatic shift? Because it is needed – for better targeting, better efficiency and to reflect the changing nature of consumer decision-making. It’s about great content, but it’s also about ensuring the content is delivered to the right market at the right time and as fast as possible.

Imagine a day when creatives could react to "of the moment" activity rather than having to wait the standard six to eight weeks to place an ad. Or a day when you could take advantage of a sudden op­portunity – as Mondelez did during the Super Bowl – by taking existing ads and booking them into last-minute premium placements. We are already seeing how brands are doing rapid-fire consumer engagement successfully on social media, with Mondelez again leading the way with its famous "dunk in the dark" Tweet in 2013. I believe that TV will one day operate in a similar way.

The imminent opening of Channel 4’s catch-up TV service is the first in what I see as many breakthroughs. Just as we smile at the old-fashioned voiceover and basic graphics of that first toothpaste ad from 60 years ago, I’m sure we will all be pondering the days when programmatic buying was just a pipe dream.

TV advertising has much to look forward to as it enters its seventh decade. I only wish my future will be as exciting – and inspiring – when I reach that age.
Nick Reid is the UK managing director of TubeMogul