Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Must-see commercials

Television has a problem. We don't like watching commercials enough, and those of us with DVRs skip through them whenever possible. This is cause for alarm for the execs, who are increasingly looking for "creative" ways to get people to watch the commercials that pay for the programs. Read this edifying AP article for a primer on what's in store for us. Essentially, the methods involve either making the commercials so enticing that viewers will be tuning in just to catch them, or cleverly integrating the ads into the show itself.

To me, though, the fuss over DVR users ignoring the expensive ads seems misplaced. According to the AP article, only 6 out of 10 actually skip commercials, meaning 4 out of 10 don't bother, because they are too lazy to press the skip button 3-9 times, because they don't want to miss the funny commercials, or because they aren't paying enough attention to notice anyway. But DVRs users aren't the only ones who don't pay attention to their televisions. Many people work or read or study through shows, glancing up only when something is interesting. Many leave the room when commercials come on, or turn down the volume. At least those who skip through their commercials keep their eyes on the screen. Some amount of screen exposure is bound to sink in.

As for embedding the ads inside a program, the 6 out of 10 DVR users who know how to skip through commercials are certainly capable of skipping that stupid Ford ad that comes in the middle of American Idol. More "subtle" product placement is a big turn-off for at least one of us, and likely to make me tune out entirely. But even for those of us who avoid commercials, once in a while live television catches up with us, or we catch up with live television, and we are forced to choose between sitting through some lousy commercials and dragging our asses off the couch. And when the commericals win it's enough for me to have the misfortune of watching the latest UPS ad once to get that they have an unfortunate new slogan.

It seems the basic problem isn't a new one, and the solution is the same as always--barrage us with so many television commercials that we will have to at least cursorily notice or be annoyed by a few until we find the skip, volume, or power button. Anything more "creative" than that will only be as successful against commercial-break-skippers as it would be against commercial-break-snackers.

So is there really a problem? Only insofar as (a) we are being sold so much unnecessary crap that we may soon reach an ad saturation point and no longer be capable of absorbing a full sentence slogan--but that's a topic for another post--and (b) the more "creative" the execs get the more fatally annoyed I will be by the blurred line between commercial entertainment and entertaining commercials.

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