What would brands do if TV advertising didn’t exist?

TV advertising in the UK is 60 years young today – if you’re reading this on the 22nd September 2015 that is. You will no doubt be exposed to 60 dozen articles referencing the Gibbs S.R. toothpaste ad that kicked the cultural phenomenon off in the UK all those years ago.

If you want a brief and enlightening overview of the last 60 years, you could do a lot worse than reading this piece by Tess Alps in Campaign. And if you would like to indulge in some of the creative TV greats of the last 60 years, Marketing has discovered the nation’s favourite (it may feature a gorilla) and adland’s (it may feature a tick followed by a tock).

But I won’t re-tread better-trodden ground; instead I just want you to consider a question.

TV advertising is the sprightliest 60-year old on the block. It still sprints for brands and runs their marathons; its memory is undimmed; its circulation is as strong and widespread as ever; it has a full head of hair and skin like a peach; it is still producing babies; its heart beats like a drum; its liver…well its liver has admittedly seen better days, but 60 years in advertising can do that to you.

2015 is set to be another record year for TV ad revenues – the sixth year in a row - with total TV investment likely to top £5bn. Viewing patterns are changing, but the impact of TV advertising and its partnership with other media is as powerful as ever. So the question is: what if it didn’t exist? Life in general would lose lots of cultural touchpoints, but what about brands, the ones who pay for it?

Over the years at various times the ‘death of TV advertising’ has been mooted, usually by usual suspects with, shall we say, their own agenda. These moots have been shown to be farcical, but, for the sake of writing an opinion piece to mark the anniversary argument, what if the pesky doom-mongers got their way?

I think – based on the evidence and modestly understating – that brands would be rather stuck without it. Yes, I know I would say that wouldn’t I, but examine the evidence.

The instant scale and reach; the emotional clout which makes the most successful campaigns; the ability to conjure brands out of nothing and make them household, office and playground names; the impact on day-to-day conversations; the proven and unbeatable ROI; the long-term effects…nothing is waiting in the wings ready to do these things.

But it is more nuanced than that because one of the reasons TV does all these things is because of the way it functions with, fuels and feeds off other media. So perhaps the most significant loss would be the fracture to this harmony and mutual benefit. TV is a vital partner in the chemistry, the alchemy.

I could go on for 60 years about this, but it is worth pausing for 60 seconds to think about the campaign effects – and, more importantly, business results – that TV advertising is so central to. Thankfully we don’t actually have to worry about losing it.


  • Lindsey Clay
    Lindsey Clay
    CEO, Thinkbox
  • Posted under
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