• Television Turn-Offs

    Most television viewers will recognise that the advertisements that punctuate the programmes we watch are a “necessary evil”; they are the price we pay for the service we receive. Without television commercials, it is said, there would be little to watch.

    But viewers might also conclude that, unavoidable as TV commercials are, there are techniques that can be used to reduce their impact – and it is a safe bet that many viewers will have grown accustomed to using the “mute” button on their remote so as to cut out the sound of the incessant voices urging us to buy this or that.

    The imperative to resort to this tactic is of course much strengthened if the advertisers continue to bombard us with commercials that irritate or annoy us. One might have thought that advertisers would be constantly alert to the possibility that their advertising, rather than inducing us to want and therefore to buy their product, might actually dissuade us from doing so.

    Yet we don’t have to think very hard to come up with television commercials that, in one way or another, lead us not only to suppress the sound but also to turn off the product that is being touted.

    And it is relatively easy to identify those advertising techniques that are off-putting in this way. There is, for instance, those ads that seem to appear at every commercial break – the opening scene of such repetitive selling efforts is enough to make one scream every time they appear. In our family, “not again!” is the usual response to this kind of blitzkrieg. Who would have thought that two women paying hotel bills would warrant so much attention?

    And then there are the ads that are selling products offered by different providers but that are all selling essentially the same product. This kind of advertising, for some strange reason, seems particularly prevalent when it comes to products thought to be of special interest to elderly viewers.

    So, we have endless advertisements from different advertisers for what is called funeral expense insurance (which is, in reality, merely a small-scale form of life insurance); and there are similarly repetitive ads for stair lifts, hearing aids, retirement villages, and “sitting down” exercise machines, repeated examples of each of which can be found on television programmes scheduled for around lunchtime.

    This is to say nothing of the advertising frenzy that we all had to endure late last year and that was apparently engendered by something called “Black Friday”, a date which seemingly had no recognisable significance for us other than to produce an excuse for an advertising blitz.

    Then there are the ads that go out of their way to irritate and annoy – those that employ super-excited voices or -“wait, there is more”! – voices that are deliberately (and insultingly) made to sound unpleasant in the misguided belief that people will identify with them more readily and therefore take heir custom to one particular supermarket. And there are some advertisers who apparently believe that their product can be made saleable only if supported by an American accent.

    And there are the commercials whose pitch assumes that the viewers are cretins and will believe, for example, that adding caffein (what next?) to shampoo is an example of “German engineering for your hair”.

    And I haven’t even mentioned the constant attempt to persuade us that various forms of fast food are super-alluring and are essential to “having a good time” at any social or family or sporting gathering.

    Advertising on television is not, one assumes, inexpensive. How long before advertisers wake up to the fact that much of it is actually off-putting. What is the pojnt of producing and screening tv commercials at considerable cost if their effect is to associate the product being advertised, in the minds of viewers, with feelings of irritation and annoyance.

    If we must have television commercials, let them at least be worth watching and listening to. Advertisers! Wake up, and try harder, and – if you expect advertising to work for you – learn to treat your viewers with more respect.

    Bryan Gould
    4 February 2020


  1. Jeremy Callaghan says: January 29, 2020 at 5:33 pmReply

    Bryan I love your pieces but must you shatter my last dream? For 20 years I have been going to bed with wet used teabags stapled to the top of my head and now you say it will do no good and call me a cretin to boot! Enough! No more!

  2. Bill Bennett says: February 15, 2020 at 1:45 amReply

    I can take advertising on broadcast TV. I’m less happy with it on Sky, after all it’s a subscription service so showing ads for paint or pasture care products between cricket overs is a bit rich.

    It’s worse when you go to the movies. Over Christmas the family caught the latest Star Wars film, by the time the ads finished all the lollies and ice cream were long finished. I swear there were 30 minutes of ads.

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