By Ben Fogler
The year is 1954, and humankind has found itself in the middle of many things, including (but not limited to):
Dwight D. Eisenhower’s tenure as 34th president of The United States of America
Elvis Presley’s rise to fame
The years 1953 and 1955.
This year is a doozy for sure. Several important events occur in 1954, including (but not limited to):
The introduction of the polio vaccine
The McCarthy Hearings
The birth of renowned actor Ray Liotta, whose decorated career included films like Something Wild, Goodfellas, and a cameo in Cocaine Bear.
Something else also happened in 1954 -- the first color TV set, the CT-100 by RCA, was produced. It had a 12 inch screen and cost 1,000 dollars, which, in today’s economy, is probably like four billion. In comparison, a black-and-white TV set of the time had a 21 inch screen and cost 300 dollars. 21 is greater than 12, and 300 is less than 1,000, so needless to say RCA would not have an easy time marketing their color TV.
To make matters worse, it’s quite difficult to sell something that you can’t really prove is real (or at least it was quite difficult in 1954. Not so true anymore). How does one advertise color as the main selling point when the ads are broadcasted to black-and-white television sets? It seems impossible that anyone would’ve actually bought a color TV way back when, yet here we are in the present day, and I’d bet good money you own a color TV right now. Maybe you’re even reading this article on your color TV. It’d be a little weird, but go off.
I did some research (I googled ‘how were color TVs marketed’ and clicked on the first website), and there was a lot of interesting stuff that RCA did to get people to purchase their color TV. Among other things, they would encourage viewers to “come on down and see for yourself!” to prove they weren’t lying about the whole ‘color’ thing. That was fascinating, but not great material for a Milking Cat article. As such, I have decided to create my own RCA ad campaign for the color TV, and afterwards all you trillions and trillions of faithful Milking Cat readers can take a moment to consider if you would buy a color TV after seeing my ads. Here goes!
Side note -- I don’t really know 50s television well enough to accurately name shows that would have run in 1954, so instead I’ll be using ones from the modern day. I hope this isn’t confusing -- if it is, feel free to copy-paste this into a word processor and then do a ‘find and replace’ and swap out all the shows I mention for I Love Lucy or something.
A middle-aged man, Robert, is sitting on a sofa facing his black-and-white television set. He looks rather bored, not really paying attention to what’s happening on the screen. His wife Linda sits next to him, similarly disinterested.
Linda: (checking her timepiece) Well, I suppose I’ll be going to bed soon.
Robert: (pulled from his stupor) Huh? Oh, but we’re not even halfway through White Lotus. You’ll miss all this biting satirization of society, classism, and the colonial roots of international tourism.
Linda: I know, and I hate to miss it. But I just feel the satire doesn’t bite nearly so hard when we can’t see all the colors!
Robert: Well, I suppose you have a point. I mean, how are we even supposed to understand the significance of the titular lotus being white? 50% of everything we’ve seen so far is white!
Linda: Right? I feel as though the lotus was there, but its symbolism just faded into the background.
Robert: Hmmm, you’re right, that really ruins it for me. Well, maybe we’d like to watch a movie instead. How about that newish animated film, Turning Red? Oh wait…
Linda: Drat! How will we even know when she turns red???
Robert: Oh, if only there was some way we could see it!
In bursts The Kool-Aid Man, who is about to utter his famous catchphrase, but only gets to the “y” in “yeah” before another man enters. The Kool-Aid Man is quickly ushered out through the hole he made in the wall. The man, who is me, Ben Fogler, but Robert and Linda don’t know that yet, turns to face the couple, who watch the scene play out with an air of shock, fear, and mild amusement.
Ben Fogler: Hello Robert and Linda. Can I call you Rob and Lind? Okay. My name is Benjamin Fogler, senior Marketing Director at RCA. We’ve heard your complaints, and you’re in luck, because we’ve got just the thing for you.
Linda and Robert: (in unison): What could that be?
Ben Fogler: I’m getting to that. Don’t interrupt. The thing we have, brand new, unprecedented, and Spanch as hell (see last article by Ben Fogler), is a TV. But not just any TV. This TV has a display, drumroll please (proceeds to drum his hands on his legs, then Robert’s legs, then the antennae of the black-and-white TV, demolishing them and turning the screen to static), in COLOR!
Robert: What? In color! Well, that’s swell!
Linda: And since you’ve just destroyed our old TV, it seems we have no option but to purchase a new one. How much?
Ben Fogler: Details, details. I’m more of a big picture kind of guy. Let’s discuss the price later. But before we do, I want you to think about how much of your life you spend in front of this TV. Don’t you want the best viewing experience possible?
Robert: Why, that’s true! Screw the price, just give me a color TV and I’ll sign the check.
Ben Fogler: So glad to hear that, because it’s an exorbitant amount of money. Also, you’ll be downsizing your display, so enjoy that. But hey, less is more!
Linda: But wait! Can we see the color TV first, just so we know you aren’t lying?
Ben Fogler: Well, I suppose so. Wheel it in.
A color TV is wheeled in.
Linda: Well, I do declare. That’s amazing.
This ad takes place in a display room. Ben Fogler stands next to a color TV. Linda and Robert are nowhere to be seen…for now.
Ben Fogler: Greetings. I’m Ben Fogler, here to present to you a very special television set, courtesy of RCA. If you rearrange the letters of RCA, it spells CAR. We don’t sell those, but we do sell all kinds of TVs, and I’m here today, broadcasting into your home, to make you aware of the fact that our newest TV, the one next to me, is no ordinary black-and-white TV. It’s a color TV, the first of its kind on the market.
Ben Fogler turns on the TV. The show that’s playing is Ginny & Georgia, and it’s one of THOSE scenes.
Ben Fogler: Oh my. Well, that’s not suitable for all audiences. One moment please, let me change the channel.
Ben tries to change the channel to no avail. He hits the television set in frustration and it immediately cuts to static.
Ben Fogler: Well damn it. Okay, you’re going to have to trust us on this one -- that Ginny & Georgia scene was in color. And so is this static, technically. But we know that you’re not convinced, as evidenced by the fact that our initial advert yielded six total sales across the nation. So don’t just take our word for it. Or even that happy couple from the previous commercial, Rob and Lind. Instead, we’ve brought an expert in to confirm that the display is color. Hopefully our use of ethos will make you believe us. Please welcome resident TV expert Fenjamin Bogler.
Fenjamin pops up from the ground and shakes Benjamin’s hand.
Fenjamin: So happy to be here.
Ben Fogler: I know you are, Fenjamin. Can I call you Fenji? Okay. Now I want you to look at this TV and tell me what you see.
Ben Fogler: Damn it. Very funny. Okay, well, what did you see before?
Fenjamin: Before when?
Ben Fogler: Before it was static.
Fenjamin: Well I saw a girl take a toothbrush and-
Ben Fogler: NOPE! Not that. Not that AT ALL. Just tell me, was that scene you saw in color?
Fenjamin: Well it’s tough to say.
Ben Fogler: Oh my God. (turns to face camera) Okay, look, it was in color. Just please believe us. Or better yet, go down to an RCA store and see for yourself, you lazy, lazy-
Commercial cuts off.
We go back to Linda and Robert, who are sitting on their couch. The room is now empty except for them, the couch, and the TV.
Linda: Well Robert, I hope you’re happy. We had to pawn off all our furniture to purchase this TV. And most of our favorite shows don’t even broadcast in color anyway, so all this was for nothing.
Robert: Oh Linda, I’m sorry. That Ben Fogler guy, he was just so convincing.
Linda: That he was. I just wish we’d seen the no-returns policy before we bought it.
They freeze as if paused. Ben Fogler walks in front of them, still in stasis.
Ben Fogler: Remember Rob and Lind? Pay no mind to what they were discussing earlier, I’m sure it was nothing. Anyway, look how happy these two are.
Ben reaches over and pulls each of their mouths up into a smile.
Ben Fogler: See, they’re smiling. They love their new TV. And so will you, when you purchase it. Now, I know you might still think we’re lying about it being in color. Let me ask you this -- why would we do that? To make money? That’s ridiculous. Just please, come on down to an RCA store near you, and you can see the colors for yourself. And then maybe you’ll want to tell your friends, and they’ll want to tell theirs, so on and so forth. I have one of these sets in my own home, and it has changed my life. And it will change yours too. There really is no other way to watch TV. We also have a special sale coming up, the RCA Flag Day Sales Event. I would highly recommend you come over then. Please. Please buy it. Some people (points to himself) really really really need you to do it. Pretty please. With a cherry on top.
So what did you think? Would you buy the RCA Color TV? Because I know I would. Something about that handsome Ben Fogler guy is just so convincing. Perhaps it's his natural wit or charming grin. Or maybe it’s the hair. Whatever it is, it worked on me.