Gather round kids, we’re talking TV history today.


Never in a million years would us at Stitchy Lizard would have guessed that the very first commercial was one from Bulova, the watch company, in 1941. After this year, TV commercials stopped for a while due to World War II. Once the war was over, companies slowly started to pick back up their advertising efforts with TV commercials. And commercials weren’t only limited to products of course, they were also used to promote political ideas and other causes.

Nowadays, with Netflix and Youtube at our disposal, we find ourselves skipping through commercial breaks. But back in the 1900’s, that was a foreign idea. Watching commercials and singing to jingles were almost a standard. If you weren’t asleep by 3am, chances are you were watching an infomercial for Jack LaLanne’s Power Juicer. People watched commercials and a piece of it would forever live in their brains.

So what were the first TV commercials in history? How were they made? Well, we will get into it right now. Here is a brief timeline of TV commercials.


As mentioned, the watch company, Bulova, created the first commercial in TV history during World War II. The video was 10 seconds long and the company invested around CAD $9.50 to make it. The ad was watched by over 4,000 people.


Just to name-drop a few big companies, Colgate, Mattel and Coca-Cola partook on sponsored programming. Sponsored programs were TV programs funded by companies in return of having the program feature the company’s logo at some point of the show. This is still a common practice nowadays, especially on Youtube. The brands were usually only mentioned during the show, but if the funding was $ignificant, the show could have the name of the brand on the show’s title.  


During this year, a toy was first promoted on television. Take a minute to guess which toy this was. Hint: it’s a head made out of potato. You guessed it, Mr. Potato Head was the first toy on TV! The commercial resulted in over a million sales during its debut year. This commercial is the gist that keeps giving, as Mr. Potato Head is still a top-selling product. Well, this success should also be attributed a bit to the Toy Story saga.


Jingles were also famous in the advertising world. One of the most popular ad jingles during the 60’s was Oscar Mayer’s “I Wish I Were An Oscar Mayer Wiener”. The name is a bid odd but at that time, it proved to be a massive hit. The reason for its popularity was that it showcased the brand’s persona and had a catchy tune.  


RCA produced an advertisement which had an animated character singing about “in color” TV. Making in color TV’s part of every household took longer than for people to switch from Pay Per View to Netflix, but more than 2 billion people had switch onto in color TV in 1965.  


This was around the time were it was discovered that smoking was linked to cancer. The Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act was responsible to get the word out and recurred to television ads and radio to have a wider reach. Also happening this year was the last time people watched The Virginia Slim commercial.


China produced their first ever wine commercial for a company called Shengui Tonic Wine. It was longer (90 seconds) and it was quite a confusing thing to watch since Chinese people had never seen a commercial before.  


Nike just did it with their first commercial during this year. The video had the Chariots of Fire song as background music and it featured the history of runners: from cavemen runners to marathon runners in the 80’s. It was entertaining and creative.


This was a big year for TV commercials with Apple putting out there a powerful message. Apple’s “1984” was showed at the Super Bowl and resulted in over $100 million sales in Mac computers over a period of 3 years.


The first ad filmed in space was for a company called Tnuva Milk, from Israel. You can now see the ad being mentioned in the Guinness Book of World Records. One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.


Dove released a revolutionary ad showing a woman transforming into a model by altering herself with different tools (including Photoshop). This was a powerful critique on female beauty conventions.


Hulu comes into the picture to transform TV history. With Hulu, the audience chose a package based on how many ads they didn’t want to watch. This is why if you were born after 2000, you might not have gotten the Jack LaLanne’s reference.