Wednesday, November 04, 2015

No one watches commercials, not even the advertisers

It’s bad enough that commercial breaks are ten minutes and that all spots are thirty seconds so we are barraged with ads. And further ads and promos appear as banners in the lower part of your screen. Then you have sporting events on TV with billboards prominent in the picture from every angle you’re shown.

But networks (and now apparently sponsors themselves) don’t seem to mind that competing products can be shown back to back.

In Don Draper’s day that would never happen. Nor in Darrin Stephens’ day (oh wait, they’re the same day). Really as late as the late ‘70s.

Once upon a time you would never see a Ford commercial butted up against a Chevy spot. If that happened via a screw up, neither would pay for their commercial. Products had it in their contracts that there had to be a time separation between them and any competitors.

And these provisions advertisers took very seriously.

At the famous corner of Hollywood & Vine in the Taft building there was a nondescript group of offices on one of the upper floors. They belonged to a firm that called itself “Radio TV Reports.”

There were TV’s, radios, and VCR’s. The person on duty would tape all three networks every night, list the commercials and log in when they aired. He’d then cut out the programming part and just keep the commercials. Sort of the opposite of what everyone else in the world does. He would also monitor local radio and TV newscasts looking for stories that featured corporate mentions.

He would flag any violations or technical problems that prevented a commercial from airing in its entirety.

If you liked watching TV it was a great job – although it’s like watching porn and only viewing the parts where the people were dressed.

It was also a lonely job. Ideal for serial killers and people who don’t bathe.

But advertisers went to the time and expense to have watchdogs in those days. And now? It’s like no one gives a shit. As long as any advertiser comes along with money, networks will air it. They’ll jam as many spots into a commercial break as they’re legally allowed with total disregard to any conflicts. There are gambling ads on sporting events. I’m surprised there are no beer ads on kids’ shows (although I’m sure that’s coming).

This is reaching absurd levels. I knew we were in the bizarro world when a certain movie advertised on Dodger television and the great Vin Scully had to say in his majestic voice, “Dodger baseball is brought to you tonight by DINNER FOR SCHMUCKS.”

If there was a movie called BREAKFAST FOR DOUCHEBAGS I’m sure they would have sponsored the following inning.

38 comments:

willieb said...

Another thing: advertisers used to seek out programming that matched their product -- I remember as a kid being bombarded with cereal and toy commercials on Saturday mornings. Now ads are tossed out at random. One of my absolute favorite times ever was when I was on You Tube playing cartoons for my four year old granddaughter. Because everything on You Tube is "monetized" these days, a "My Little Pony" cartoon was preceded by an ad for a drug to help you stop smoking, and an old Disney cartoon was introduced by an ad for an ocean cruise. Two things I'm sure she will run out and purchase tomorrow.

Bill Avena said...

The Corporation has noticed your disrespect of Our revenue source. Expect a visit on the eve of St Lucy's Day. Wear white linen.

Toby the Wonder Horse said...

Friday question on a Wednesday: What are your thoughts on the “Mary Worth”/“Phantom” crossover currently playing out on the comic strip pages? It feels like the universe is collapsing in on itself.

Ralph C. said...

If the Punisher and Archie can meet in the comics then anything is possible.

blinky said...

When advertisers eventually understand that people want entertainment and content they will start doing 30 second shorts with their PRODUCTS placed. Take Coffee in Cars with Comedians as an example. I watch the ads and enjoy them.
On a personal note I spent a decade making commercials for a living. It was always interesting to be watching a show and my spot would come on. I would say hey I did that! My friends reactions were of the order of: Huh, ya don't say. or (silence).

Carol Ford said...

During Bob Crane's radio show at KNX in the 1950s and 1960s, people listened intently to the commercials because he made them a part of his whole program. As his KNX colleagues told us, Bob made a sport with it, and they considered him a radio genius. Not that all advertisers loved it—there were a few who requested that their ads be left alone. But only a few. Almost all sponsors paid top dollar to be aired during Bob's show, knowing full well their ads would be "messed with" or "enhanced" by him. But it also meant that people would listen! Things are so different today. The only thing that comes close to what Bob did in radio are the Super Bowl ads, where audiences can't wait to see them. Other than that, it's a constant, in-your-face, brutal advertising campaign that runs 24/7 on just about everything, to the point where we're learning to block it all out. Kind of defeats the whole purpose.

Tim W. said...

My wife works in television sales, and I can tell you that there are still definite rule about airing competing products, etc. The difference is that there isn't enough money available to have anyone actually look out for it, so those rules are often broken and no one notices. When the advertiser sees it, though, then that's a problem.

Michael said...

First, I had a friend who lined up the commercials for a TV station here and he would work overtime to make sure two of the same ads, or similar ads, didn't appear in the same window. Perhaps it also has something to do with whether the people who make these decisions care about their jobs.

Also, I believe that Jack Benny was the pioneer in radio of wrapping the ads into the script, and it seemed to work pretty well for him.

Charlie O'Brien said...

I missed my bath today, so to pay I must endure all the network commercials - especially the fantasy league sports ones. doomed!!

Roseann said...

I always think that you can get a good idea about the status of a series in a lineup by the kind of commercials they air. Lots of car commercials - aimed at Yuppies with lots of income and spending abilities. Baby stuff for daytime when stay at home moms are watching bored out of their minds. Local when no one else will buy time on that particular show.

Mark Fearing said...

You have to wonder...what happens when/if advertising becomes completely superfluous? If no one watches ads, and you only have pay per month subscriptions AND you can skip ads...hummm. A lot of the money will disappear out of making TV. It will be all 'reality' shows all the time. Wait, that's almost what network TV is now...

Mighty Dyckerson said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Bob Leszczak said...

And "back in the day," I'd get hot-lined by the PD if any two like advertisers aired adjacently. I also remember a time when every TV series had a main sponsor and an alternate sponsor, and the cast was often involved in the specially-produced ads for Post Cereals, General Foods, etc. However, in those days each car dealer only sold DeSotos or Hudsons. Nowadays, every auto dealer is Shmendrick's Dodge, Jeep, Chevy, Isuzu, Kia, Jaguar and Ford. If they don't care about the competition, neither does the radio or TV station.

Kyle said...

Ken, I've wondered the same thing. My current favorite is when watching an ESPN radio show simulacast on TV, they'll do a live read for "DraftKings" and then the first TV spot that runs is for "FanDuel". It makes me confused about which "non-gambling" site I should give my money to.

Rock Golf said...

For a while, only a few years ago, there was a practice of putting on exactly the same commercial two or even three times during the same break. I presume it was to increase the impact of the ad. But now that I think of it, I can't recall the last time I saw it.

I guess advertisers worked out that shelling out 3 times as much for the commercial wasn't justifiable economically.

Anyone else remember this practice?

Andy Rose said...

If you're watching a cable channel, a lot of these situations with competing ads are due to the local insertion breaks. Your local cable company is allowed to replace certain breaks on each channel with their own ads that they sell locally. Which is why you'd see commercials for your city's Crazy Eddie's Car Lot on ESPN.

But cable distributors with national reach (like DISH Network and U-Verse) sell a lot of their own national advertising for those breaks. These operators don't coordinate with the channels, so you may have a Ford spot at the end of a cable channel break immediately followed by a Chevy spot at the beginning of the adjoining insertion break. Cable programmers don't like that, but there's not much they can do about it. (What they REALLY don't like is when cable operators put in ads for competing channels, like throwing a promo for Fox Sports coverage into a break that's running on ESPN.)

GS in SF said...

Every time I think of this type of issue, and companies like Cumulus, I pray that someone who has capital understands the market inefficiency in radio and TV and starts a Moneyball-like station for TV and radio. They will need to understand that the initial money the other stations receive for 100 commercials an hour is ultimately driving away the audience and the price of the spot. And understand that the nationalization of radio and the dumbification of TV has not made it impossible to compete but rather has made it ripe to gain a loyal and significant audience. Up here in the Bay Area there was a station (TV20) that was very retro, even in the 80's. They'd air a 60's dance party with locals, have neighborhood dogs announce the next show etc. People loved it. Then the owner sold it for a fortune and the new owners ran it into the ground. Years later he bought it back and now the station runs the 80's dance party, etc. And again people are loving it. Moneyball the hell out of the industry and see what happens.

H Johnson said...

I've noticed the adjacent competing ads for some time now. The logic goes hand in hand with every celebrity selling everything now. It's just about the quan (qwan?). Can't take the endorsements seriously. Do you think Matthew McConaughey actually drives a Lincoln... or has deep thoughts while doing so... or ever?

The few scheckels a month to watch Hulu without commercials is the best deal on the planet. Weird at first, it takes getting used to because we've been trained to expect them. I'm sure it won'last long, or the price will skyrocket but man am I enjoying it now. I can watch the programs I want, when I want and without brain damage every five minutes. HooHoo I'm king of the world!

Aloha

Igor said...

Good story. I kinda knew that type of biz existed, but didn't know the details.

When I was a kid, part of my Dad's job was buying TV time on afternoon kids shows, the shows produced by the local stations.

So you could say MY job was to be his "TV Reports". Then for each mistake I caught, he got a make-good. And I'd get some kind of reward, a toy or something.

But now, thinking back... The rewards systems worked like I was a pet monkey. Like, when you teach your pet a trick, you don't give him a treat every time, just now-and-then. Now I feel kinda ripped off! Eh, my parent did fine by me.

Igor said...

Whoops, I meant "my parentS did fine by me."

Jeff C in DC said...

I assumed you now had to pay more for isolating your ad content from competing ads. Well, you'll probably have to next year then.

I see the erosion of advertising controls as a GOOD thing. Because it means the ad system is deteriorating hard and fast, and that makes me deliriously happy seeing how arrogantly smothering it's become.

Oh, and you forgot product placement actually scripted into shows and inside the actor's mouths. I think the words "Gimme a BEER" will never be heard on a screen again. Hey, think of what Cheers could pull in today!!

Anonymous said...

A few years ago I got a Nielsen survey thingy in the mail (attached to dollar bills). I was very pleased that they would finally get to register the kind of stuff I liked (eg Futurama & Stargate). It was increasingly farcical (eg support calls and emails they didn't answer until after the survey period), and I couldn't actually fill it out, finally realising the reason is that Nielsen didn't care one jot what content I watched, and actually wanted a log of what advertising breaks I watched (live). The answer is none for over a decade.

This year another survey arrived in the post (still attached to dollar bills). Nothing has changed.

thomas tucker said...

I have to admit I hate it when I'm watching TV with one of my pre-pubertal kids (usually sports), and an ad for Cialis comes on.I don't really want to have that conservation with them yet.

John Nixon said...

Often there are so many of the same category of advertiser...car dealers, fast food, etc...that the traffic people have no way of splitting them up. Well unless...(cue light bulb going off)...they want to pay more for 'guaranteed separation'.

Also it used to be that if there was a plane crash then all airline advertising would be suspended for a period of time, often 7 days out of respect for the victims.

And the reason that people are no longer employed to listen to or watch the commercials to see if they all run properly is that these days there are silent digital codes embedded in the spots that activate a computer and automatically send an affidavit back to the advertising agency. They know instantly if the wrong commercial ran and will have their bill adjusted accordingly or demand something like 2-for-1 makegoods.

Dave Creek said...

Rock Golf, I still see the same ads back-to-back all the time. My wife emailed a complaint to GMC about seeing the same car ad X2 every night. And this wasn't local vs. network spot, they were the same spot from the same source every night.

That's still not as common as the same spot running several times in different breaks, which is still irritating.

Also irritating is watching a promo for the show I'm already watching. Every night about 6:50, here comes the NBC NIGHTLY NEWS promo during NIGHTLY NEWS. And it's the generic promo, not specific to a news story to be presented the next night. I'm already watching!

MikeK.Pa. said...

"Once upon a time you would never see a Ford commercial butted up against a Chevy spot." But back in the day, automakers often cut deals with producers to have their cars used exclusively on their shows. I know Quinn Martin Productions often used Fords. I think Chevy had BEWITCHED.

Damion said...

Once again, you nailed it pal, great to have you as the ongoing voice of reason ......I love your take on most everything ... and thanks for sprinkling it liberally with your outstanding humor great article..... Damion

Greg Ehrbar said...

Years ago, Nick at Nite actually had a contest in which the lucky winner could "watch TV for a living." Clever, no?

Jack Benny indeed was the father of integrated commercials. At least one of the advertisers could not see the humor and started complaining (such meddling is nothing new), so Benny changed sponsors.

Stan Freberg revolutionized advertising by making fun of the product. My favorite is the "Zagnut" campaign. Since the candy had an awful name, he worked it into the humor.

Even Arthur Godrey in his heyday made fun of the product, for example, joking about how little chicken was in a sponsor's chicken noodle soup.

It is soooo worth it to pay for Hulu without commercials. Life is too short.

Joseph Scarbrough said...

I've been confused by a commercial recently: it was a Geico commercial where the Gecko passes by a beach wedding and makes it a special point to mention the Helsberg diamond wedding ring the groom got the bride, though the commercial still ends with a voice-over announcement mentioning that Geico saves you money on car insurance. So what was the commercial advertising, a jewelry retailer or a car insurance company?

Guy Kipp said...

the great Vin Scully had to say in his majestic voice, “Dodger baseball is brought to you tonight by DINNER FOR SCHMUCKS.”

This reminds me of the first year that Fox had the NFL, when John Madden and Pat Summerall moved from CBS to FOX. Summerall, accustomed to reading promos for "60 Minutes" and "Murder, She Wrote," instead had to intone, "..and tonight on Fox, 'House A-Buggin'."

Todd Everett said...

Everybody in L.A. in the '70s-'80s knows "Preview House," a building on Sunset where people (handed tickets on the street, like they do with TV shows) were privileged to watch what were preview episodes of upcoming TV shows.

You weren't supposed to attend more than once; if you did, you'd quickly notice that they played the same shows (also a Mr. Magoo cartoon) over and over. What we were twisting the dials for -- at least what the folks were interested in out response to -- were the commercials, shown "just for fun" between the ersatz previews.

Unless you'd gone a few times, you'd have no idea how many failed pilots starred Bill Bixby.

Joseph Scarbrough said...

You know what I do love about commercials from the 60s, though? Even the commercials had laugh tracks back then:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1paBouSxsVk
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v3t-1FjXtyY
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5PQiZwfEhS4

There used to be a GREEN ACRES commercial on YT years ago with Oliver, Lisa, and Carol Channing hawking orange juice.

Barry Traylor said...

Well Ken, as I rarely watch anything live anymore the commercials don't bother me too much. The few I see all seem to be for drugs (and medical issues) I never heard of. It must be tough for a hypochondriac to watch TV nowadays.

Mike Barer said...

I remember when beer commercials were so good, they are still entertaining today.

Breadbaker said...

Growing up as the child of an actual Don Draper, when we'd be watching TV and see an ad garbled, one of my parents would intone, "there's another make good coming." Rather than adjusting the bill, the ad would run another time for free.

Joseph Scarbrough said...

Why does Zaxby's never advertise chicken? We just got our first Zaxby's in town earlier this year, but I don't know what their chicken's like because all I ever seem them advertise is their milkshakes and salads. What kind of chicken do they have? Is it like KFC? Chick-fil-A? What?

AAllen said...

For a while I used to work for an electronics distributor, so we had televisions in the break room, and I couldn't avoid the ads. During local news at campaign time, we had an anti-incumbent governor ad, an anti-incumbent governor's competitor ad and finally a pro-incumbent governor ad. I was getting whiplash just trying to ignore them all. I finally had to get an ocean sound effect on my iPod and train myself to keep my eyes on a book. Commercial radio and television can't go out of business soon enough.

halojones-fan said...

Still happens. If you look at Castle, for example, you'll see the only police force in the country that gives its detectives shitbox Dodges to drive

They did one episode where it was a parallel universe. I wish they had changed all the cars to Chevies as a joke.