Skip to main content

Television Commercials in the Moving Image Collections

This guide describes several collections of television commercials and provides search strategies for finding television advertising materials in the moving image collections of the Library of Congress.

Introduction

"The best commercials ... convey something pithy but intricately observed about the American life-style."

-Jim Hall, Mighty Minutes: An Illustrated History of Television's Best Commercials, p. 9.
[Cartoon of Mr. Magoo dancing on stage, holding a package of General Electric lightbulbs with four female dancers in line behind him]. 1965. New York World-Telegram and the Sun Newspaper Photograph Collection. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division

The Motion Picture, Broadcasting, and Recorded Sound Division of the Library of Congress holds extensive television advertising materials in its collections. Television commercials appear in many places throughout the division's holdings. They can be found in dedicated collections of commercials and as well as in many programs, such as sporting events, news, and entertainment.

Nearly every type of product imaginable is represented in our various collections of commercials, which range in date from the late 1940's to the 2000's. Food, beverages, health and beauty products, tobacco, candy, automobiles, appliances, household products, toys, games, clothing, films, theater, local businesses, and much more are advertised. Political advertisements and public service announcements are also well represented.

Television commercials provide a unique snapshot of American life and consumerism, and may be of interest to researchers in the fields of broadcasting history, advertising history, industrial relations, film and media studies, American studies, women's studies, African American studies, and other areas. As Jim Hall writes in Mighty Minutes: An Illustrated History of Television's Best Commercials

"Commercials present to us, in microcosmic but vivid form, a social and economic record of America during the television age: the changing roles of men and women in our culture, the storybook fantasies that have beguiled generations of youthful Kid Vid viewers, and the evolution of styles and sensibilities. Certainly these thirty- and sixty- second 'time capsules' are nostalgic and entertaining. More important, though, they reflect an idealized but remarkably cogent view of a society whose video-addicted citizens have come to accept commercials as fixtures of their daily lives" (p. 11).

Explore the Library's collections of commercials with this Research Guide, and get in touch with the Moving Image Research Center reference librarians to learn more!


View this famous Lyndon B. Johnson campaign ad, now online in the National Screening Room:


The book cited in this introduction is: