Saturday, 13 July 2019

A Commercial About Commercials

Television had a problem in 1959. It was called the Quiz Show Scandal.

What a less jaded and cynical society were we in the ‘50s. We trusted television. Television was our friend. But then television betrayed us. We discovered we had been lied to and what was airing on those big-money game shows with real people was all fake.

Broadcasting, like any business with huge money involved, preferred to make sure the government didn’t interfere with its inward cash flow, promising self-regulation. It had to move fast when the quiz show scandal finally outraged everyone (including politicians who saw “hearings” as a way to score vote-equalling PR points). So the National Association of Broadcasters created the Television Information Office, kind of at arm’s length, designed to provide information about the industry. It began a PR campaign as well. And cartoons were part of it.

Those of you who grew up in the 1960s and early ‘70s will remember stations would occasionally show a slide of the NAB’s “Seal of Good Practice” and a booth announcer would explain how the station followed the Television Code, etc. (I haven’t a clue when stations stopped doing that). In addition, in 1960 the TIO hired advertising agency McCann-Erickson to come up with two one-minute and two 20-second spots to explain the Code.

Broadcasting magazine goes into great length about the TIO and NAB in its issue of September 26, 1960. Unfortunately, it didn’t reveal what company received the contract to make the animated spots. It did, however, post frames along with some dialogue.(My wild guess is they were done in New York).

Whether the actual PSAs from this campaign are hidden away on the internet, I have no idea. But I have an affection for 1950s industrial and commercial cartoon designs and that’s the reason behind this post. You can see that these designs are turning away from the really angular and highly-stylised ones of the ‘50s.

Commercial and public service animation is a huge subject to cover. I don’t know how big the interest is, but it would be great to see more study and research done on the topic. Thunderbean Animation has come out with collections of non-theatrical films from that era and, some time ago, Amid Amidi put out the book “Cartoon Modern” with some examples of beautiful and brilliant designs, but so much more could be done.


  1. According to Wiki, the Code began to falter in the 70s, and was eliminated altogether in 1983.

    1. The Television Code was struck down by a Federal Trade Commission enquiry (Alberto-Culver Co. v. National Association of Broadcasters, to be exact) which found that provisions controlling advertising time and rates, particularly in prime time, were found to be inconsistent and incompatible with free-market articles of faith.

  2. My wild guess on those spots is that they were done by Pintoff Productions.