The Advertisements 

13 July 2017

Originally contributed to the Advertiser’s Weekly of 23 September 1955

It could be that television’s first year will do more to help or hurt the national standing of advertising than anything else you could think of.

No advertising man — and no one well disposed towards advertising — could have found much pleasure in the debates on the Television Bill. For anyone who thinks it obvious that advertising has an indispensable and enlivening part to play in a free society at work to get its living standards up, the debates indeed made appalling reading.

For the fact of the matter is that plain distrust of advertising and of its likely influence was one of the main reasons why opposition to the Bill was so extensive and so sustained and — let us face it — so widespread among some of the nicest people you could imagine.

It seems to me, now we are on the very eve of a system of free television, that the way in which opinion has swung around on this and other points during the last year is staggering. I have no doubt that at any rate one of the reasons for the volte face in opinion — it is not less than that — is the way in which advertising has approached its immense new responsibility.

Advertising has behaved, if I may be allowed to say so, with great good sense, thoughtfully, and with its eyes open to what is at stake: and that has struck everyone. No one knows this better than the Independent Television Authority, which has had help of a most remarkable kind from its Advertising Advisory Committee. The code of principles for television advertising produced by this committee, of which the acting chairman is a distinguished advertising man, seems to me a model.

But of course the proof of the pudding is in the eating.

So far advertising has spoken through its invaluable and well-conducted representative organisations or through its leading figures. Now comes the test: the advertisements themselves.

If the public does not like them and becomes irritated and contemptuous, we are all in trouble, but the shouts of annoyance will break the very windows of the agencies.

People can get pretty angry with things they do not like in their own homes. We know that from what has happened elsewhere. On the other hand, if they like the advertisements on the whole, find them bright, neat, useful, and entertaining, then advertising will be making friends and disarming enemies so fast as to add up to a mass movement of opinion.

Meanwhile everything races forward.

The programme companies — on whom everything depends — have achieved a miracle. For readiness to produce seven hours of television programmes a day in 11 months or less from the date of appointment is indeed that.

They have been clear and firm about their own responsibilities in the matter of accepting advertising, and I think they have been entirely right. It is they who are taking the big risks in this enterprise, so strange and so astonishing after 30 years of a legally constituted monopoly.

The stations are being built at a spanking pace. Conversion began to burn like a bush fire some time ago. The thing has happened.

Once London is a going concern, the programmes are there for as many of 11 or 12 million people as wish to see them. In less than six months the Midlands join in, with their six million, two or three months later comes Lancashire with its seven million, and then Yorkshire with its five million — about 30 million people within reach a year after the first station, 60 per cent of the total population. Within another two, with another six stations in service, the figure should pass above 80 per cent.

Those whose day to day work is advertising will have to work out what this means to them in terms of the swift arrival of the new national medium.

But of course television is only incidentally that.

Well used, it is the most powerful, memorable, and civilising medium for the communication of most things that was ever devised by the incredible brilliance of modern science. Ill used, it is just too awful to be believed.

Looking back, it is a relief to be able to say that I do not see what more the programme companies, or advertising, or the I.T.A. could have done to grasp the opportunity and shun the danger.

Anyway, here it comes.

About the author

Sir Robert Fraser (1904-1985) was born in Australia, emigrating to the United Kingdom in 1927. He was a writer at the Daily Herald and stood, unsuccessfully, for parliament as a Labour candidate in 1935. He joined the Ministry of Information upon the outbreak of World War II, and rose to become Director-General of its successor, the Central Office of Information. He was the personal choice of the ITA’s chairman, Sir Kenneth Clark, to become the first Director-General of the Authority in 1954 and remained in post until retirement in 1970. He received an OBE in 1944 and was knighted in 1949, both for his services to government communications.

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