First, a word of praise. The imagination and computerization that goes into the creation of today’s commercials hawking skin creams or peanuts is astounding. Despite my distaste for commercials generally, I’m often mesmerized by the incredible productions involved. That being said…
According to Section 5 of the Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice, there are limits on how much time may be spent for commercials. Depending on the time of day, it ranges from 13 to 16 minutes per hour. That’s one-quarter of the show. And who do you think pays for those very expensive commercials? We do, in the price we pay for the advertised products.
Frequently, when I select a column in the Internet edition of the Washington Post, a video commercial would appear before the column does. It either gives me the option to click onto an “X” in the upper right-hand corner, thereby cancelling the commercial, or it informs me that the commercial will end in 15-or-so seconds. I grit my teeth and wait to read the column.
Bad enough. But one morning, while reading a Post column, a video commercial popped up in mid-sentence. For a split-second I thought a virus had taken over. It’s one thing to have commercials at the top, on the side, and sometimes right in the middle of the column, but to be reading when, without warning, a video pops up is the last straw.
I suppose it’s legal, and that a lot of money is involved, but while we tolerate commercials as the price we pay for watching “CSI” or “Survivor,” the intrusiveness of commercials has gotten out of hand.
Now hear this
There is an act called the Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation Act — the CALM Act. This act ostensibly prohibits advertisers from raising the decibel level of their ads higher than that of the program. This is as useless as prohibition was.
First of all, decibel levels rise and fall with the type of sound being delivered. An actress letting out a scream is far different than the sound of two lovers whispering sweet nothings to one another. It’s the same with commercials. I’m hard of hearing, so I watch TV with headphones. I don’t know how many times I’ve had to take them off when a blaring commercial comes on. The ad agencies that create those commercials know how to get your attention, both with sound and content, even while staying within the rules of the CALM act.
What’s this about?
Something strange has happened to commercials. Time was when a commercial would introduce a product, tell you how good it is, and urge you to buy it. They were straightforward: “Pepsi-Cola hits the spot, twelve full ounces, that’s a lot…” Today the expensive scenarios of most commercials have little or nothing to do with the product; their aim is to get you to remember the product’s name, which is flashed on the screen at the end of the commercial.
Example: one of the many different GEICO commercials features a hobo chicken. The chicken has left the farm and is seen first in a photograph held by the farmer, and then aboard a train heading for who knows where. Nothing to do with insurance. On TV these days a product’s logo is not necessarily an abstract design, it’s a duck, a gecko — or a chicken.
Wanna buy a plane?
Then there are a bunch of commericals with no product for sale. Well, not the kinds of products on store shelves. “My mom works at GE,” says the cute girl after screen images of airplane engines and other contrivances made by GE. What’s this all about, I wondered. Why, of course, invest in the company!
The airplane manufacturer Northrup-Grumman has come out with a number of mysterious-looking commercials featuring sleek military aircraft, with ominous percussive sound effects accompanied by imaginative lighting. Anyone in the market for an enormous deadly airplane? I didn’t think so. Again, investment is the aim.
This tirade is over. But, like Howard Beale in the film “Network,” I’m mad as hell. Until there’s a successful movement against all this nonsense, I guess I’ll have to take those tedious, barely comprehensible commercials — plus two Aleves…or should I stay with six Tylenols?