Things I Don’t Like About Television, Episode 10: Commercials

Now, I don’t rue the existence of commercials. I know what they’re for and the networks have to pay the bills. Also, for us to see many programs [relatively] free, this comes in the form of sponsors. Commercials have been a reality since the first mainstream radio shows, so they would of course follow to television.

And there are some commercials I really love. Some of the Flo (from Progressive) spots are funny to me and I loved the Mayhem commercials from Allstate. Budweiser has long been known as a business with a creative advertising department and even some of its older spots are still memorable today.

That said, there are at least three things that bother more about commercials that bother me about network television (and basic cable stations, like Comedy Central).

Repeat Commercials

While it’s fun for viewers to see commercials they like a few times in their rotations, even those can wear on a person if repeated ad nauseum. Every once in a while one commercial will be repeated during every break in a week and sometimes twice in a break. Even worse is when the same commercial is shown back to back! Some of those commercials may even have music viewers like, but they’ll get sick of it if the commercial the music’s in is shown too much in a short period. Surely, sponsors have paid for a certain amount of ad space, but if they did, they should have at least 2-3 commercials on their queue to avoid ad fatigue.

Another thing about repeat commercials is the quality. Late at night, viewers might see the same ads every break and from week to week. Usually, these are the sleazy sex hotline spots, the cheap insurance ads, or the online college scams. These commercials look and sound cheap; they have poor sound quality, poor acting, and awful knock-off music. Those should be clues that inferior products are being offered.

 Cut-off Commercials

This is a complaint I have for commercials I like. Sometimes, there is a 1 ½- to 2-minute ad. It might be star-studded and often is, but the point is the spot has creative writing, good enough acting, and/or good music. Perhaps the spot aired during an important sporting event, in which case, it would be shown in full for the first few times it airs.

Beyond that, though, the commercial will often be truncated for the rest of its run. I personally hate that. If the commercial’s brilliance cannot be shown in full, I’d rather it not be shown at all.

Commercial Inflation

Now, this is an increasing problem.

Did the worst of it start with American Idol? It seems so, since I remember how the show was set up in 2002. It was like there would be a commercial break every 5-10 minutes. It was really annoying when viewers would have to wait to know important results, and there would still be breaks halfway through those, too.

Another example of how bad commercial breaks had gotten is Smallville. During the last 2 seasons at least, it seemed that there would be commercial breaks every 6 minutes and those would last at least 3 minutes by themselves. When looking at the DVD set for seasons 7-8, it looked like the episodes were shorter, as well.

Currently, it looks like the problem has gotten even worse. When I go to Hulu and look for TV shows, I look closely at the minutes.

  • The programs that take up half-hour slot don’t look so bad. They might be 21-22 minutes long. That’s off by 3 minutes at the most from older shows, as most of them were supposed to have at least 23 minutes of content.
  • Now, consider how shows that take up an hour slot. I guess you would expect an “hour-long” show to last about 46 minutes or at least push it there, right? Well, most shows nowadays only last around 43. You might get lucky if the show has 44 minutes. Some shows have only 40. One show I looked at had 39 minutes an episode last year, and only 37 this year! WTF, man?! That’s insane.

It’s obvious that the above is an effect of commercial inflation. It’s not enough that networks charge an absorbent amount of money for sponsors to advertise in slots, but there are now more slots for them to advertise in! As a result, we are seeing less and less content.

(Side Note: Commercial inflation has broadcasts of reruns. It’s gotten so bad that less and less time is given for each show’s opening and closing credits. The openings are rushed through, with sped up film and music that might also be sped up or cut in half.

I especially hate this with reruns of Married with Children. The song “Love and Marriage” by Frank Sinatra was cut for the theme song but it accompanied a funny opening. That opening has been consistently cut and cut again for reruns. It sucks more because box sets of Seasons 1-3 feature the worst generic music I have even heard.

Maybe most viewers won’t mind, but it’s a pet peeve of mine.)

In the case of sports, however, there is a certain consequential mixture going on here. While the professional and collegiate games are supposed to last as long as they ever have, the broadcasts tend to be more bloated in order to accommodate the increased advertising. NFL football has suffered the most, as those productions are jammed packed with commercial breaks. Twenty years ago, and NFL telecast would be around 3 hours. It jumped to 3 ½ hours around the turn of the century and may approach 4 hours now. In some cases, viewers may even miss some plays due to the amount of commercials.

Bonus: Super Bowl Advertising

Every year, a big deal is made about the commercials that will be shown during the Super Bowl telecast. Each Super Bowl will have its share of great, good, forgettable, and dreadful commercials. But as these commercials may be hit or miss, companies take the chance in order to gain more attention and draw people to their brands. Companies will thus pay top dollar in order to air at ads that last at least 30 seconds and the price skyrockets every year.

Throughout the years, some memorable commercials have aired. Many will remember the 1984 ad from Apple or the iconic Pepsi ad with Cindy Crawford. As I mentioned from the top, Budweiser is known for its creative advertising, so it certainly made a mark on a few Super Bowls; the one with the frogs probably started the Beer brand’s strong run.

The commercials that fail on Super Bowl Sunday do so for at least two reasons. Either these ads failed to get the viewers to focus on the product or they’re just disturbing.

  • Last year, there was a commercial for Nationwide Insurance in which a boy was lamenting things he would never do because he died in an accident. It was disturbing given the mood and the day it aired.
  • Also last year, there was a Fiat 500X commericial that featured a blue pill. It appears that some viewers remembered the blue pill but forgot that a car was being advertised. See for yourself.

  • Just this year, we had Mountain Dew’s puppy monkey baby commercial. ‘Nuff said.

Regardless of the commercials’ success the price tag is too high for each spot. This past Sunday, Super Bowl 50 was held and it was shown on CBS. The network charged companies $5 million for a 30-second spot. Compare this to the $42,000 charged for the Super Bowl I in 1967, the $1 million+ in 1995, or the $2.6 million price tag in 2006. Heck, the price was $4.5 million last year.

Considering everything, I think the increased hype for these commercials reflects what has happened to the game in a few respects. For the most part, it’s just a spectacle. Like we might get a few gems with the ads, we will see highly competitive Super Bowls once in a while. In the meantime, most of the SB’s are lacking, which is why some viewers will make a bigger deal out of the ads, or the halftime show. Most of these advertisements are mundane, so I’m generally unimpressed either way.

Next, I will be discussing why I loathe pharmaceutical commercials, among other things.


Have any thoughts on the subject? Time’s yours.

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