Marketing TVs: Then and now

CBS CMO George Schweitzer discusses some vintage television ads from the CBS Attic collection. Some of the ad's promises aren't that different from today's ad claims.

Each year at CES, technologists and marketers trot out their newest wares, promising enhancements and upgrades in the user experience, especially as it relates to television.

While TV technology constantly evolves, its aspirations and selling points have remained consistent over the decades. Take a look at a few vintage ads from our collection as proof. The promises they offered to consumers many decades ago aren't all that different from those being made today.

Amazing picture quality
This vintage TV ad for CBS Columbia TV set circa 1953 features celebrity spokesperson Arthur Godfrey and promises a picture so sharp that "you'll think you're in the TV studio itself!" Circa 1953--yes, CBS owned a TV and radio manufacturing company for a while, and sold televisions under the CBS Columbia brand. But notice the TV unit in the ad is closed. TV sets at the time were sold as living room furniture, based on the wood finish of the cabinets that encased them. They had to be attractive to belong there.


Revolutionary innovation
This 1960 ad for the new RCA Victor television positions the TV set itself as a revolutionary development (not just the news and current events that it broadcasts). So what was so new and radical about it? The fact that the TV set hides away in the piece of furniture, self programs, and offers a remote control and hi-fi sound!


Ease of use
Long before marketers grasped on to the concept of "perfecting the user experience," TV manufacturers sought ways to simplify new features and make them easier and more palatable to consumers. For example, this ad for Zenith's Automatic Fine Tuning Control TV set from the early 1970s shows a woman tuning a color TV set while blindfolded. At the time, fine-tuning color TVs was a problem. People had to find the right blend of contrast, color, and tint so automatic tuning one was a big selling point.


These are just a few samples of TV and media industry ads from our collection. To peruse more, visit The CBS Attic and--as always--stay tuned!
About the author

    George Schweitzer's position as chief marketing officer at CBS gives him a unique opportunity not only to observe but also to help shape the ways technology is altering the television industry. A communications major at Boston University who joined CBS after graduation some 30 years ago, George is also an unabashed technology geek who specializes in the latest home automation and entertainment gear.


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