Vintage Television

Vintage TV: 1950s animated commercials

1949 RCA TV

My mom’s parents always had the latest gadgets and electronics, so it was typical of them that they bought their first television in 1949. South Bend, where Mom grew up, didn’t have its own TV stations yet, so Grandpa put up a big antenna and they watched Chicago stations. They had the only television in their neighborhood for quite some time, and all the neighborhood kids wanted to visit to watch whatever shows were on. TV was so new that every show seemed like an event.

1949 television was very primitive. Most stations were on the air only a few hours a day, and most shows and commercials were live. But television grew up fast during the 1950s and by the end of the decade it had fully taken shape. My mom, as a little girl, had a front row seat to it all.

Mom especially enjoyed animated commercials. So many commercials in TV’s early days consisted of a man in a suit holding up the product and talking about it. It made animated commercials all the more compelling to my mom as a young girl.

Sometimes the advertised products were things Mom might use, such as toothpaste.

Sometimes the advertised products were things Mom couldn’t care less about, such as bank loans. No matter, she still watched.

This commercial for Winston cigarettes caused quite hubbub in its day. The prevailing wisdom then was that television should use English properly, and this commercial’s slogan committed a grammatical error. Only the strictest grammarian would arch an eyebrow today, and he or she would tell you that the slogan should be “Winston tastes good as a cigarette should.”

The simple line-art style of the previous two commercials was common among animated commercials in the ’50s. I figure the simpler they were, the less expensive they were to produce. This spot for Maypo maple-flavored oatmeal was very popular.

Another way to keep costs down was to create short commercials, such as this one for Hellman’s Mayonnaise.

Commercials for medicines were great candidates for animation because it provided a great way to illustrate how the medicine worked.

There was a time when most people could sing the Black Label Beer jingle – hey, Mabel! I haven’t seen this beer on store shelves since the 1970s.

Plenty of beer commercials were animated in the 1950s, including this one for Hamm’s Beer. This log-rolling bear and hapless duck shilled Hamm’s beer on TV into the 1970s. I remember watching a shorter, colorized version of it when I was a child.

In this age of recording shows on DVRs or watching them on the Internet, advertisers struggle to get their ads noticed. Maybe they should take a lesson from the 1950s and animate more of them.

Vintage TV is an occasional feature here at Down the Road.
Check out all the other Vintage TV posts I’ve written.

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17 thoughts on “Vintage TV: 1950s animated commercials

  1. Dani says:

    Love the commercials from days gone by. A local radio station occasionally throws in a vintage commercial spot. Yesterday they played a “Speedy” Alka-Seltzer ad. What a delight!

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  2. ryoko861 says:

    Those commercials weren’t so IN YOUR FACE as they are today. They were almost as entertaining as the show themselves!

    I can’t stand commercials. I actually did research on this. I watched an horu long show on BBC America. I recorded how many commercials between segments and how long they were. Then I watched “The View” (and never again!) for an hour on a major tv network.

    The BBC had fewer commercials and each commercial was much shorter in length as well.

    The major network “The View” was on had a total of about 40 minutes of commercials (there was about 9-12 commercials between segments!)! Actual program airing was only about 20 minutes. And most of it was just the four women cackling at eachother, talking over their guest (it was Mitt Romney actually).

    My husband told me he and my son counted 13 commercials between segments the other night during a show on the History Channel. That’s excessive. And there’s a recession? Do you know how much money is spent on commercial air time? MILLIONS!

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    • When I worked in radio, we did two or three “stop sets” (commercial breaks) an hour, at :20, :35, and :50. The :35 break was the one we dropped if we did only two stop sets. (Pay attention. I bet your favorite radio station does their breaks at the same times, give or take a couple minutes either way.) We played about four minutes of commercials in each stop set, but no more, because we knew that peoples’ attention spans were already at their limit in the 4th minute. That has been blown away today by six, eight, ten minute stop sets on the radio. I’d hate to be the advertisers after about minute four when people have long since tuned away.

      In the 50s, shows had lots fewer commercials. Some had just one commercial, but it might have run 2-3 minutes. Others had two or three commercial breaks with one (1) commercial (30 or 60 seconds) apiece.

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  3. ryoko861 says:

    Yes, I have noticed that stations will do commercials approx. the same time. They tout a 90 minute “non stop” music session, but after it’s done it’s about 8 or 9 minutes of commercials, ads, promotions and/or weather/traffic. I do understand that the ads and commercials have to pay for the music.

    Yeah, I’m sure advertising is a cut throat business. The commercials that get me the most are the local or “home made” ones….the car dealers..OMG I want to punch them in the face!

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  4. I wonder if someday people who are young now will have some nostalgia about today’s commercials. I do remember some of these from when I was very young. For some reason the beer ones stick in my mind more than the others. With all the commercials today I am very grateful for my DVR.

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  5. My parents used to have some Hamm’s coasters with that bear on them… Maybe they still do. I vaguely remember my dad talking about ‘the land of sky blue waters’ after he’d had a few. I had no idea of course, until now!

    And yeah, the other ad makes me want to try Black Label for some reason.

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  6. Norma Addison says:

    There was a commercial about the recession in the 50’s I would love to see replayed. It’s about A Mom and Pop store that was ordering more groceries when this young man told him that there was a recession. So the old man stopped ordering groceries and when no one came to the store he said,” I guess there is a recession.” With no onen buying there is no selling.

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