In Depth

Ad Pioneer Recognized TV's Promise

Agency Founder Young Touted Medium in 1948

By the time TV started to take off in late 1947, John Orr Young, the co-founder of ad giant Young & Rubicam, had left Y&R and was working in public relations. In his book, “Adventures in Advertising,” written in 1948, he addressed the subject of the new medium:

“Television is coming so fast that it is now the item of bright promise. However, judging from the programs I have seen so far, television is still in the promise stage. Except for sports, it seem to me that, though we have wrought a miracle in bringing this new theater into being, we still lack a show.”

Addressing what had happened in radio, he wrote, “Twenty-five years ago it was the advertising agencies that led the way in bringing the show world to the world of commerce. The ad agencies dreamed up most of the ideas, got the acts, supervised the production, made the thing roll.”

However, Young wrote he was disappointed in the results and decided ad people “are either tired old men or young ones lacking inspiration.”

What TV needs to take off, he said, is “real advertising genius.” First, genius to convince marketers that TV is worth the investment it will take to be successful. “Inspiration is needed, in the second place, to develop an art worthy of this marvelous new medium, which is here to stay and to affect our lives.”

Mr. Young concluded with a warning: “Television is an intimate thing. You watch with 100% attention—or with none. It is the center of the home. We cannot expect the public to be satisfied with cleaned-up night-club shows; threadbare movies, and interminable amateur shows forever. Nor can television be morally negative. The responsibility resting upon telecasters and sponsors is at least eight times greater that it was when only radio was involved. For television, as the tests show, has an impact on the listener about eight times greater than ordinary radio.”

As Mr. Young was writing this, Y&R, the agency he co-founded in the early 1920s, was the second biggest ad agency and, like No. 1 agency JWT, a huge booster of TV. In 1948 Y&R had six network TV shows on the air.

Although predictions that TV could grow into a $6 billion industry—three to four times more than radio at the time—seemed outlandish, Mr. Young thought that figure “is, if anything, conservative.” On that score he was prescient. Four short years later—in 1952—TV became the
No. 1 national advertising medium, according to Advertising Age, and it’s never looked back.