advertising typically presents its sponsors as good corporate citizens,
forward-thinking providers of products, jobs and services, and as
active supporters of causes such as environmentalism. Historically
a staple of magazines, radio and sponsored motion pictures, company
voice advertising helped shape sponsorships of dramatic anthology,
spectacular, news and documentary programs. After 1970, the practice
helped shape Public Broadcasting Service program underwriting.
known as "public relations," "institutional" or "advocacy advertising,"
company voice advertising seeks a favorable political climate for
the expansion of its sponsors' commercial activities and interests.
One of the earliest campaigns of its kind dating to 1908, for example,
promoted the "universal service" of the AT&T Bell System telephone
monopoly. By the late 1920s public-minded "progress" had become
the highly advertised hallmark of General Electric (GE), General
Motors and other center firms. The practice picked up political
significance during the New Deal and later during World War II,
when all manner of advertising promoted business's patriotic sacrifice
and struggle on the production front.
After the war,
business leaders remained suspicious of centralized government,
confiscatory taxation, politically powerful labor, and what many
believed to be the public's outmoded fear of big business. In bringing
postwar public and employee relations to television, business invested
in programs whose objectives ranged from economic education to outright
entertainment. Factory processes and free enterprise rhetoric appeared
regularly. The National Association of Manufacturers, for example,
launched Industry on Parade, a syndicated telefilm series
that toured the nation's industrial centers. Initially produced
by the NBC News film unit, the series ran from 1951 to 1958. Business
and trade groups worked television into training and employee relations.
Drexel Institute of Technology's University of the Air, for
example, took advantage of marginal television time in the Philadelphia
area for noon-hour panel discussions of labor-management issues.
Designed for in-plant reception by audiences of supervisory trainees
and managers, the scenes attracted spouses in the home viewing audience,
who, one publicist proudly noted, had become the new fans of industrial
for the first time, major corporations predicated their public and
employee relations activities upon the experience of entertainment.
General Electric and DuPont, both active in economic education,
favored the editorial control of dramatic anthology programs. The
company voice specialists of the General Electric Theater
ruled out the sponsorship of panel discussions such as Meet the
Press and Youth Wants to Know, because the format posed
the threat of comment inimical to business. DuPont continued its
investment in tightly controlled drama with the transfer of radio's
Cavalcade of America to television in 1952. DuPont specialists
justified their television investment with projected declining costs
per-thousand, that by 1954 would equal radio's peak year of 1948.
Further delineating the audience for company voice messages, specialists
anticipated the maturity of a generation with no first hand knowledge
of the Depression--or as GE's Chester H. Lang put it, "no adult
exposure to the violent anti-business propaganda of the 'depression'
years. The opinions the young people form now, as they grow up,"
Lang explained, "will determine the climate in which we will operate
in the decades of their maturity." "Television offers us the most
effective medium ever created by man for the communication of ideas
and attitudes." DuPont's F. Lyman Dewey suggested that his company's
investment in television affirmed its executives' appreciation of
the fact that there was no longer a question of "shall we as
DuPont representatives use these powerful tools of communication--but
shall we use them well."
television's expense and unproved effect, other company voice advertisers
hesitantly incorporated the new medium into their plans. More than
a few invested in alternating-week sponsorships that further divided
commercial breaks between product sales and company voice messages.
U.S. Steel predicated its television plans in part upon a tax code
that allowed deductions for product sales and company voice advertising
as a business expense. Its first telecast Christmas night 1952 presented
Dickens' A Christmas Carol. The U. S. Steel Hour later
apportioned commercial breaks between company voice messages read
by "Voice of U.S. Steel" announcer George Hicks, and industry-wide
product sales promotions acted out by U.S. Steel's "family team"
Mary Kay and Johnny.
programs built around light entertainment, sports and special events
presented sponsors as adjuncts of national life and culture. General
Motors, reminiscent of its massive investments m wartime institutional
advertising, entered television in the 1952/53 season with a weekly
schedule of NCAA Football, followed by the Eisenhower Inauguration
and the Coronation of Elizabeth II. Ford Motor Company and the electrical
industry each invested in light entertainment. The success of the
Ford 50th Anniversary Show simultaneously telecast on NBC
and CBS led to similarly conceived "horizontal saturation" for the
1954 television season. Light's Diamond Jubilee, for
example, a two-hour spectacular celebrating the 75th anniversary
of Thomas Edison's invention of the electric light, appeared on
four networks. The David O. Selznick production featured a filmed
talk by President Eisenhower, narration by Joseph Cotten and sketches
and musical numbers with Walter Brennan, Kim Novak, Helen Hayes,
Lauren Bacall, David Niven, Judith Anderson and Eddie Fisher.
By the mid-1950s
nearly every major American corporation had entered television to
build audiences for company voice advertising. The Aluminum Company
of America sponsored Edward R. Murrow's See It Now to boost
its name recognition with the public and with manufacturers using
aluminum. Reynolds Aluminum sponsored Mr. Peepers, while
the Aluminum Company of Canada with others sponsored Omnibus.
Underwritten by the Ford Foundation as a demonstration of "television
at its best," the Sunday afternoon series presented diverse entertainments
hosted by Alistair Cooke. Not averse to commercial sponsorship,
Omnibus anticipated the "making possible" program environment
of the Public Broadcasting Service.
active corporations embraced the prestigious possibilities of drama,
light entertainment and special events, by 1960 many had become
willing sponsors of science, news and documentary programs. The
promotion of scientific and technological competence took on special
urgency after the Soviet launch of the Sputnik spacecraft m 1958.
The corporate-cool television presence of the Bell System exemplified
the trend. In 1956 Bell entered television with half-hour dramas
entitled Telephone Time. 110 episodes ran until 1958 dramatizing
the success stories of "little people." In 1959 Bell returned to
the air with four musical specials that evolved into the Bell
Telephone Hour. Light orchestral music, musical numbers and
ballet sequences accompanied "Of time and space" company voice messages.
Bell also developed preemptive documentary programs on weather,
genetics, circulation of the blood and cosmic rays, and the Threshold
series treating the American space program. Bell also purchased
related CBS documentaries such as "Why Man in Space?" Adopting a
similar strategy, Texaco, Gulf and Westinghouse each televised network
news and special events laden with scientific and technological
news value. Texaco became an early sponsor of NBC's Huntley-Brinkley
Report. The "unassuming authenticity and easy informality" of
co-anchors Chet Huntley and David Brinkley were thought to complement
Texaco's "dependability" message. Gulf raised its institutional
profile with "instant specials" featuring NBC correspondent Frank
McGee, who covered the events of the 1960 presidential campaign
and the U.S. space program. Documentary films such as "The Tunnel"
rounded out the schedule. Westinghouse Presents featured
documentary specials "Our Man in Vienna" with David Brinkley, "The
Land" with Chet Huntley and "The Wacky World of Jerry Lewis." Company
voice messages promoted Westinghouse's "scientific achievements,
dedication and sincere interest in people," qualities thought to
mitigate the negative public relations impact of 641 civil damage
suits stemming from charges of price-fixing.
multinational aspirations of Xerox Corporation sought complementary
qualities of excellence. Not unlike the program strategies pursued
by steel, automotive and electrical producers, Xerox embarked upon
an aggressive public relations campaign by purchasing programs that
"get talked about": Huntley-Brinkley Reports treating the
Kremlin, Communism, Jimmy Hoffa, Cuba and Korea, the Making of the
President 1960 and 1964, and a series of 90-minute specials dramatizing
the work of United Nations social agencies. Broadcast without commercial
interruption on NBC and ABC, the U.N. series targeted the international
community identified as key to the expansion of the office copier
market. A model of corporate underwriting, Xerox's U.N. dramas won
critical acclaim that helped justify the series' $4 million expense
to stockholders who questioned its value. The series' most celebrated
program, "Carol for Another Christmas," featured a Rod Serling script
that revisited the horrors of Hiroshima, the millions unavailable
to Western abundance, and the bleakest of futures prefigured by
the hydrogen bomb. Xerox later sponsored Civilisation with
Kenneth Clark. Thirteen one-hour programs presented "leading social
issues and advanced art forms" reviewing "1600 years of Western
man's great art and ideas. . . man at his finest on television at
voice advertisers of the early 1950s anticipated the maturity of
a television generation with no direct knowledge of the Depression,
the company voice advertisers of the early 1960s bemoaned that generation's
expectation that business extend its interests beyond the balance
sheet to include social goals in the areas of minority employment,
consumer protection and environmentalism. Public opinion pollster
Louis Harris described the public image of U.S. business as "bight,
but flawed." Specialists set out to narrow the distance between
corporate claim and performance said to be as great as the so-called
generation gap. Not only had society become more impersonal and
complex, they argued, but increasingly polarized and problematic.
Hoping to erase lingering doubts about advertising's impact and
effect, specialists sharpened claims for advocacy advertising as
"the one remaining tool with which business can apply counter pressure
in an adversary society."
John E. O'Toole,
the thoughtful president of the Madison Avenue agency Foote, Cone
& Belding, suggested that business leaders learn to emulate the
"adversary culture" of intellectual and academic pursuits, political
activists and consumer groups "who seek basic changes in the system."
O'Toole noted that while each "culture" had necessary and legitimate
functions, the adversary culture dominated the media. In complex
times, O'Toole argued, business should make certain that its unique
claims of social leadership rose above the dissident clutter.
by the oil industry, the 1970s witnessed significant investment
in company voice television. Reeling from the public relations fallout
of rising energy prices, American-based petroleum producers became
a presence on the Public Broadcasting Service. Mobil's Masterpiece
Theatre with one-time Omnibus host Alistair Cooke debuted
in January 1971. As historian Laurence Jarvik notes, Mobil soon
displaced the Ford Foundation as the single largest contributor
to public television, raising its initial program grant of $390,000
to $12 million by 1990. Masterpiece Theatre, Mystery!
and Upstairs, Downstairs provided cultural cover for a heavy
schedule of combative advocacy ads published in the op-ed sections
of The New York Times and the Washington Post. In
the late 1970s the ad campaign came to television: elaborately costumed
"A Fable for Now" spots featuring mimes Shields & Yarnell, the Pilobolus
Dance Theatre, the Louis Falco Dance Company, the Richard Morris
Dance Theatre and members of the American Ballet Theatre enlivened
Mobil's anti-regulatory rhetoric in parables of scarcity and abundance
drawn from the animal kingdom. "Mobil Information Center" spots
aired locally before network newscasts employed an anchorman-correspondent
simulation to tout "the freedom of the press," along with the pro-growth
logic of offshore drilling, nuclear power plant construction, deregulation
of natural gas and the restriction of environmental regulation.
sympathetic critics wondered if Mobil could have carried out its
advocacy campaign without the expense of television drama, others
suggested that big oil's enthusiastic underwriting of public television
had turned PBS into the "Petroleum Broadcasting Service." PBS president
Lawrence K. Grossman urged perspective on the funding issue. In
1977 Grossman explained that though oil company funding had increased
tenfold since the early 1970s, oil company moneys represented less
than 3% of system income. "What conclusion," asked Grossman, "do
we in public television draw from these numbers? Not that oil companies
should contribute less but rather that corporations of all other
types should be asked to contribute more!"
1983 corporate support for PBS had flattened out at $38 million
for the two previous years, presaging a decade of declining Federal
appropriations that left PBS ever more dependent upon the market
for support. In 1981 network officials won congressional approval
for an 18-month experiment in "enhanced underwriting." Two-minute
credits at the beginning and conclusion of programs telecast by
nine PBS affiliates allowed mention of brand names, slogans and
institutional messages beyond previously restricted verbal mentions
and static displays of logos. The discussion of corporate mascots,
animated logos, product demonstrations and superlatives to tap a
new class of advertising revenue alarmed established underwriters.
In an effort to conserve PBS' uncluttered institutional character,
national program underwriters Mobil, the Chubb Group of Insurance
Companies, Chevron, AT&T, Exxon, Ford, General Electric, IBM, GTE,
J.C. Penny, Morgan Guaranty Trust, Owens-Corning and others formed
the Corporations in Support of Public Television (CSPT). The CSPT
promoted the concept of "quality demographics" among potential corporate
underwriters who desired to advertise "excellence," social cause
identification and the occasional product.
and T, for example, had recently provided $9 million for expanded
one-hour coverage of the MacNeil/Lehrer Report (later News Hour).
Emphasizing performance and communication, specialists expected
the buy to enhance AT&T's image as an information provider after
of its breakup into regional "Baby Bells" by the U.S. Justice Department.
their company voice accounts, specialists themselves perhaps wondered
just what effect their long-term advertising campaigns had bought.
Increasingly business found itself the subject of critical television
news stories treating the environment, the OPEC oil shock, inflation
and recession. Corporate critics charged that public television
had become a prime example of what Alan Wolfe described as "logo
America," in which "the only price a company will charge for its
public service activities is the right to display its logo." Near
the opposite end of the political spectrum, critic David Horowitz
described PBS' broadcast schedule as a "monotonous diet of left-wing
politics," though it would have been hard to find such programs
equaling the possibilities, much less access, available to the company
voice advertiser. Mobil, for example, financed an hour-long PBS
documentary program criticizing the anti-business thrust of prime
time network television drama. Hosted by writer Benjamin Stein,
Hollywood's Favorite Heavy: Businessmen on Prime Time
TV used clips from Dallas, Dynasty and Falcon
Crest to contend that television had destroyed youth's outlook
upon business and business ethics. A peculiar assumption, wrote
critic Jay Rosen in Channels magazine, since television itself
was a business, and advertisements had made consumption "the nearest
thing to religion for most Americans." Mobil, however, had decided
that it could not countenance Blake Carrington, J.R. Ewing and other
stereotypes of rapacious businessman in prime time. Interestingly,
General Electric declined to join Mobil as a Hollywood's Favorite
Heavy underwriter, preferring instead to stick with its "We
Bring Good Things to Life" spot campaign. Having rethought its aversion
to panel discussions, GE aired its "Good Things" campaign on ABC's
This Week with David Brinkley and The McLaughlin Group.
The latter appeared commercially on NBC's five owned and operated
stations, and publicly on a 230 station PBS network.
the century draws to a close and funding for all forms of television
continues to be squeezed by new outlets and new technologies such
as computer access to the Internet, corporations continue to seek
new connections to media. The trend that began with the origins
of mass media shows no sign of abating.
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