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Why the First Commercial Looks Like Advertisements of Today

When did the first television commercial air? Depends on who you ask. Some say 1929, others 1934. We turned to the definitive source, our usual destination for truth, Wikipedia, for the answer: July 1, 1941. Right before the Brooklyn Dodgers took on the Philadelphia Phillies, fans saw something new: an ad for Bulova Watches.

Here it is, in all it’s 10-second glory. Don’t blink:


“America runs on Bulova time.” (Now we know where Dunkin’ got the inspiration for their tagline). Bulova handed over $4 for air fees and $5 for station fees and spent another $3 to make the ad. We think they got hosed.

How on earth does this even remotely resemble today’s advertisement? Brevity. Ads are now built to deliver a message quickly. Think of the spots you see when you’re watching Hulu or YouTube, for example. They’re built around 15 second increments. Many brands cram their name and product in there, hoping they’ll make an impact before our attention wanders.

They don’t.

Smart advertisers approach it differently. They know they only have 10-15 seconds to engage us, so they give us an incredible story. They give us something we’ll remember.

In 1941, all Bulova cared about was showcasing their brand name and product as quickly as they could. But the point is that it’s interesting to see how such simple techniques can be effective – and how you can deliver a message in such a brief amount of time.

Like bell-bottoms, platform shoes, and shoulder pads, everything comes back around. In the 1940’s, 10 seconds was all Bulova could afford. It was all they knew. Today, brevity is back as brands strive to grab the attention of those who have no time.

According to our watch, it’s time to subscribe to the Mind of AGM podcast.