Probably one of the top ten marketing programs of the 20th century was the one that RCA Corporation created for its National Broadcasting Company (NBC) television network. This would be the ubiquitous “NBC peacock”, that’s been a brand for NBC, on-and-off, for almost 50 years.
As I was walking earlier this evening, I noticed the number of houses that no longer had an outside antenna. And it reminded me of when I was a kid—when virtually every house had a TV antenna. I think our road maybe had one house without one—the people didn’t have a television!!! And, for some reason, refused to have one.
One thing you know about the far-suburbs, is that a certain amount of “games” go on. Games of conspicuous consumption. Just like how some drivers never outgrow the need for the hall monitor, likewise any number of overgrown adolescents have to show off their toys. The more in-your-face, the better.
In the late 1960’s, the “must-have” item was the color television set. And sure, there was a division between the “haves” and the “have nots”. Guess who’s house the local kids were more likely to congregate at for those afternoon cartoons? Eh, the house with the color TV, right? Especially, a 25″ console. (You know, the thing the paint cans sit on in the back of the attached garage.)
Back to our friends at RCA.
Once the black-and-white set made its inroads to homes throughout America, there had to be a new, “new thing”. The new toy became Color TV. I think these things sold for today’s equivalent of like $5,000.
The problem, of course, was that if people were perfectly happy with their B&W set, what was going to get them to fork it over for color? Until there were enough houses with the device already inside, somehow, somehow there needed to be a way to taunt those viewers with the black and white set to feel bad. Bad about not having the color set. “This is America, and some of your neighbors are watching this baby in color, and you, you shmuck, you are stuck watching it in Black and White!”
So came the birth of the NBC Peacock.
I didn’t know about this eariler one. Apparently, there is an entire history of the brand and its use. A TV afficionado put a QuickTime version of the bird out on his website.
Note that the original animation is from 1957—the same time, about, that the Russians first put an object into space.
This first peacock and its intro seems to say something about America. For one, the cymbal in the beginning and the baritone convey a sense that this new technology is something just short of the appearance of every major religious figure in history at some giant banquet. “Oh my God! Oh my God! It’s living color.” (Not just color, mind you, but LLLLLLIVVVVVVING color! It’s being brought to you in LIVING COLOR!!)
Then, the decrepit black and white bird bursts out into like seven or eight shades of color. It must have been like saying, “OK Ruskies! Take THAT! Let’s see you do THAT! Huh? Can’t! Huh! Living color, baby! Stick that in your rocket.”
I imagine that five years of the cymbal and the barritone would wear on any viewer, so around 1962, NBC modified the animation, in a very cool, sixties sort-of-way:
This is known in the canon as the “Laramie Peacock”, because its first appearance is said to have been before some Western of that name.
I think the cymbal was replaced with woodwinds (I don’t really know the names for these musical instruments), and the color display was much more cut-to-the-chase. “Hey man, living color, cooooooooool.” I guess whoever did the score for the original (garish) animation was sent off to provide the background music for the original (NBC) Star Trek series.
The site these commercials play on points out that NBC began airing a lot of shows that relied on color–(“Wonderful World of Disney” had a very colorful opening.) But I noticed during the “Bonanza Marathon” on a cable channel last week, that it extended even to the other series.
Ben Cartright had to be the most colorful cowboy in Nevada at the time. I think every episode has him with a kerchief that was right out of the wrong ’60’s! (“Hey Lorne, we know it’s in the 1860’s, but we need this living color here for the ratings!”)
I think that’s why the map of the Ponderosa burns off in the beginning, too. “Hey, you wanna see Lake Tahoe in blue? Then go see your RCA dealer . . .”
I guess you can’t be too hard on a TV network, though, that used to end their news broadcasts with Beethoven.