I mostly ignore the commercials interrupting The People’s Court, House Hunters, and Jeopardy! every few minutes. As annoying as they are, I long ago accepted advertisements as part of the TV viewing experience – what other choice is there anyway?
Of late, however, the whole process has become exceptionally irritating. All commercials seem irksome these days, but a select few have me yelling at the TV while pressing the MUTE button on my remote. I may be overreacting, but enough is enough!
I am beyond fed up with the Medicare ads urging us Boomers to check our zip codes for additional benefits. Usually Joe Namath and company incessantly remind us to call before the early December deadline, but there has been no respite from these ads already in 2022. A station I enjoy watching runs a Medicare spot during EVERY COMMERCIAL BREAK ALL DAY LONG. Along with ads for retirement insurance, walk-in bathtubs, and law firms seeking victims of mesothelioma and paraquat, I am almost too depressed and irritated to continue watching my shows.
I am a victim of my own demographic situation. I just referred to a rerun station broadcasting familiar programs from yesteryear including Father Knows Best, The Waltons, The Andy Griffith Show. This station’s commercial line-up perfectly illustrates demographic targeting. I left the most desirable age group of 18-34 half my life ago and am now a member of that amorphous “over 65” category. Thus, I see wrinkle cream commercials rather than primetime perfume ads – and instead of watching Matthew McConaughey in the latest sexy automobile from Lincoln, I listen to Tom Selleck explain reverse mortgages.
Concentrating on the adventures of Howdy Doody, Lassie, and the Ricardos, I recall little about advertising in the early 1950s when I began watching the two TV stations available. I can recall commercials for Slinkys and hula hoops. Rice Krispies snapped, crackled, and popped while Alka Seltzer plopped and plopped, then fizzed and fizzed. Oh, and Quaker Puffed Wheat was “shot from guns.”
But there are major differences between television advertising from an unbelievable seventy years ago and today, 22 years into the 21st century. Many early commercials ran at least a full minute until advertisers, to save money,
limited them to thirty seconds. Most commercials today last 15 to 20 seconds – or less. In 1952 television commercials consumed 13% of viewing time; nowadays the figure is 32%. Longer commercials in less time as opposed to shorter commercials in more time: naturally modern viewers feel bombarded.
Changes in culture are clearly reflected in commercials. We did not need Burger King or McDonald’s commercials when we were little kids – how many fast food restaurants or pizza places even existed back then? In fact, the sum of my family’s restaurant experiences consisted of root beer in mugs delivered by carhops or a semi-greasy bag of yummy Crabill hamburgers. Notable, too, is the replacement for commercials about those early TV dinners: these days ads extol the virtues of premeasured fresh ingredients for gourmet meals delivered right to our doorsteps.
Cigarette commercials once portrayed tobacco products as luxurious, fashionable, and healthy – until such advertising was banned from the airwaves in 1971. Most medicines advertised years ago were of the over-the-counter type for colds, congestion, indigestion, headaches. These days we are inundated with prescription drug commercials in lifestyle scenes accompanied by their numerous side effects plus a warning to avoid the medication if allergic to it. Duh!
Probably most modern is the current practice of making very private facets of our lives very public. Ward and June Cleaver each slept primly and properly alone in their half of matching twin beds during my kidhood. Just as primly and properly, there were a few deodorant ads and the occasional underclothing commercial from Hanes or Maidenform. Today, however, every aspect of every private body part and even more private bodily functions is on display: from clothing to hygiene to dysfunction to reproduction issues – or lack thereof. Mr. Whipple may have squeezed the Charmin, but today’s commercials thoroughly illustrate how toilet paper accomplishes specific results.
There is, however, one category of advertising to which I will give no quarter. I think political ads – particularly negative ones that attack – should be abolished. I still remember the chilling effect on my 16-year-old self by a controversial ad during the Johnson-Goldwater presidential campaign. It depicted a tot whose daisy-petal counting morphed into the countdown preceding a nuclear blast.
Astoundingly, in Ohio’s recent GOP Senate campaign for Rob Portman’s seat – a contest referred to as the costliest and most chaotic in the nation – the gaggle of candidates collectively spent just short of $50 million dollars on TV advertising. I hope they know many of us ignore their ads, muting them whenever they appear. Personally, I trust no information presented in any political ad from any party. And I expect to hear what candidates plan to do if elected. The very minute I hear anything negative about a fellow candidate, I am off to the MUTE button. For my money, they should save their money – and simply work harder to make positive contributions to the lives of the constituents they so lavishly woo.
Well, I have had my say about television commercials, and they are still running even as I type. I guess I should watch more PBS, learn to stream the programs I watch – or just shut up and live with reality!
Shirley Scott, a 1966 graduate of Graham High School, is a native of Champaign County. After receiving degrees in English and German from Otterbein College, she returned to GHS in 1970 where she taught until retiring in 2010. From 1976-2001 she coordinated the German Exchange Program with the Otto-Hahn-Gymnasium in Springe.