At the tone, it’s Bulova time

Bulova Watch Co Inc is launching its first major television advertising campaign since the 1980s. Its ‘America Still Runs On Bulova Time’ campaign features the commercials ‘Troops,’ ‘Apollo’ and ‘Radio’. The spots were directed by Benjamin Productions’ Tracy Trotter out of New York-based Burkhardt & Hillman. Bulova is known for launching the very first TV and radio advertisements.

Pioneering Watch Company Breaks Back Into Broadcasting With Spots From Burkhardt & Hillman.

The Bulova watch company, which pioneered broadcast advertising by airing the world’s first radio and TV ads, has mounted a major TV campaign – its first in over a decade.

The campaign, “America Still Runs On Bulova Time,” via New York ad agency Burkhardt & Hillman, broke last week. The agency hopes that the three spots – “Apollo,” “Troops” and “Radio” – directed by Los Angeles-based Tracy Trotter through Benjamin Productions in New York, will restore Bulova’s brand image, and reach younger consumers who think of Bulova as their grandfather’s watch.

Pioneering Media

The campaign aims to bridge the old and the new by pairing archival footage and contemporary, family-oriented scenes. According to Bulova’s marketing director, Francie Abraham, they began production by researching the company’s advertising history at the Annenberg School For Communication at the Univ. of Pennsylvania to confirm the watchmaker’s pioneering use of media. Abraham explained that in 1926, history’s first radio commercial – “At the tone it’s 8 p.m., B-U-L-O-V-A, Bulova Watch time” – crackled across the earphones and loudspeakers of KDKA radio, Pittsburgh. By 1940, the almost omnipresent time checks, “At the tone, Bulova watch time is…” were playing on all 240 commercial radio stations then operating in the U.S.

On July 1, 1941, a :20 spot for Bulova was broadcast on now-defunct WNBT-TV New York from Ebbets Field in Brooklyn at the start of a Dodgers-Phillies game – the first-ever TV commercial. Media buyers take note: It cost $9.00 to buy time for that commercial – $4 for air charges and $5 for station charges.

The world’s first electronic watch, Bulova’s Accutron tuning-fork timepiece, was introduced in 1960 and widely advertised on TV. And in ’69, an Accutron clock was placed on the moon by Apollo 11 astronauts, the first men to set foot on its surface.

But while the company, founded in 1875 by Joseph Bulova, has long been one of the most recognized brand names in the world, the 1970s saw it swamped by competition from Japanese quartz-watch makers. After faltering for several years, the company changed hands and was bought by Loews Corporation in 1979.

Abraham noted that the company has since stabilized its retail presence and re-designed its line, and is hoping the new spots will resurrect some of the brand’s broadcasting luster. “We’ve been gaining market share without much advertising,” she said, “so now seemed like the perfect time to follow through with ads that will bring consumers to the counter asking for Bulova.”

The TV campaign is linked to Bulova’s print campaign from Kirschner & Carnoff in New York, which emphasizes families having quality time together.

Campaign History

Burkhardt & Hillman creative director Ron Burkhardt said the production’s biggest challenge was finding the necessary historical stock footage and matching the right music to fit the period. Easiest to get was the film for “Apollo,” which pairs stock NASA footage with a hospital birth scene, while the voiceover says bulova watches reviews “was there for America’s first journey out of this world and today we are often there when someone new comes into it.” It opens with astronauts on the moon, footage that came free from NASA.

In “Troops,” archival shots of World War II marines jumping from an amphibious troop carrier are matched with new film showing kids jumping from a van for a soccer game as the voiceover explains Bulova was there to help time invasions on the battlefield and today it helps get soccer troops to the field on time. And “Radio” shows scenes of old radio show productions matched with the contemporary shots of a father arriving at an airport and glancing at his nixon gold watch as his son rushes up to greet him. Once again the voiceover ties Bulova’s history to modern times.

Stock footage for “Radio” and “Troops” came from stock shops The Image Bank and Grinberg in New York. New live-action footage for the spots was shot on location in New York and New Jersey.

According to Burkhardt, the spots should appeal to a wide range of ages, with Apollo getting the younger consumers, “Troops” connecting with the baby boomers, and “Radio” the seniors.

Abraham added that, “I know it’s a bad pun, but I think it’s very timely that Bulova’s moving back into TV with this campaign just now with young people’s trend toward nostalgia and the popularity of programs like the History Channel.”

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