Dr Sean Nixon
15 December 2011
At 16:00 in Room 6.345 (Colchester Campus) and afterwards in the Sociology Common Room.
The paper addresses how the viewing public responded to the new, intrusive form of television advertising in the 1960s. I ask how did the arrival of television advertising colour viewers general feelings about advertising? And to what extent did viewers feel an investment in the slogans, dramas and humour of ‘telly ads’? Did they worry about the effects of television advertising on them? Exploring these questions is important because the viewers and readers of advertising have remained a nebulous and shadowy presence within critical accounts of post-war consumer society. Like other attempts to understand historical audiences and readers, the fact that viewers of TV commercials in the 1960s have left few traces in the archives of their relationship to the new form of persuasion clearly presents a significant obstacle to any attempt to understand how they viewed commercials at the time. However, as Jonathon Rose has argued in relation to working class readers through the nineteenth and twentieth century, it is possible to begin to piece together the intellectual and subjective responses of these historical actors.
This paper, in seeking to draw out evidence of viewers’ responses, focuses on two key sources. The first are surveys and qualitative studies undertaken by the advertising industry which recorded attitudes towards advertising, and TV advertising in particular. The second source is letters written by viewers about the advertising that they watched. The letters are a particularly precious historical resource. Through them we can see how television and TV advertising communicated a sense of immediacy and eventfulness in the lives of those who watched it. It was this which stimulated them to write the letters to advertisers about the commercials they had seen on television. Their written responses speak to a broader, but distinctive, historical experience of the new medium of TV. For this first generation of post-war TV watchers – or ‘TV lookers’ as one of the women I cite later described the still new habit of watching television – TV’s novelty and power to communicate directly and instantly was conjoined with an older culture of letter writing. Their epistles show how television became central to everyday life in the late 1960s and how viewers were prompted by its vivid presence in their lives. It was this property of television in general, and TV advertising in particular, that engaged viewers and helped to embed television’s commercial messages in the worlds of the mass audience.