Larry Banman: Don’t let commercials be the definition of who you are
Without a Doubt
Like most Baby Boomers, I grew up in an era where there were the three major television networks and a public television network. Like today, there were not commercials on the public television network, just the inevitable pledge drives. The advertisements on the other three channels were basically the same, as near as I could tell.
All three channels had essentially the same programming. There were variety shows, sitcoms, adventure dramas, Westerns, news and sports. CBS was kind of the kingpin with NBC a close second and ABC cast in the role of underdog. There were subtle differences in the shows, but they all appealed to basically the same demographic.
Our choice of programming was based more on the quality of reception rather than the actual show. For example, the reception for NBC was pretty grainy. We endured the poor quality for “Bonanza,” but not for “My Mother the Car.”
The scenario I just described sounds like a third-world country when compared to the entertainment options today. Cable and satellite television reception provides hundreds of options. The Internet brings even more selections. Add to that DVDs and Blue-ray and a person should never be bored ” theoretically.
That, of course, is not the case, but that’s the subject of discussion for another day.
As a former advertising salesman, I am acutely aware of the decisions that businesses must make with their limited marketing dollars. With so many choices of entertainment, I often wonder how those decisions are made. Businesses no longer have the luxury of a captive audience. If you are like me, you use commercial time to scan through the other channels for a quick sports update or a glimpse of something fascinating on the Discovery Channel.
In our house, we also record a show so we can fast forward through the commercials.
What’s a business person to do? As near as I can tell, studies have been done to determine who is watching which shows. Marketing types then go to businesses and say things like, “The majority of people watching ‘Happy Days’ at 4:30 p.m. in the Central Time Zone are …”
If you are selling something that would appeal to that demographic, it is smart to target your dollars in that area.
The only commercials that are actually anticipated are those that are featured during the Super Bowl game each year. That is one event that transcends most demographic boundaries. As a result, the cost of a 30-second commercial during Fox’s broadcast, at $2.7 million, is the highest ever.
It can also result in some clever commercials. Given that the game itself rarely lives up to the hype, there is a unique phenomenon. People stop what they are doing to watch the commercials and then go back to socializing during the game.
Lately, I have taken to using commercials to determine what kind of person I am. Certain shows attract me and thus, I should be seeing commercials that cater to me and my situation.
This past year, I was involved in a real estate transaction that involved a refinance of another property I owned. The mortgage, refinance and quick capital and
erase-your-credit-card-debt commercials were all I seemed to hear. It made me realize that I was in a very common situation. It was also indicative of what must have been the general panic being felt by a certain segment of the business community just prior to the bust in the lending industry and the house buying slump that followed.
I have been paying particular attention to commercials for the past several months.
I watch my share of sports and the people being targeted by the sponsors of those events are a demographic in which I am not sure I fit. There are many, many alcohol commercials, all of which portray an active lifestyle in which everybody is funny and there are numerous opportunities to “have-it-all.”
I stopped buying into that farce in 1977. I appreciate the humor in those commercials, but they don’t resonate with me. Many of the other commercials are about cars I can’t afford and opportunities to invest money that I don’t possess. Those people all seem to be happy, but they are living a life to which I cannot connect.
I also gravitate toward reruns of shows I remember enjoying in my youth. I don’t go back to Milton Berle, and I don’t watch “The Andy Griffith Show” or “The Jeffersons.” My recent favorites are “Fraser” and “M*A*S*H.”
At any rate, if I fit the demographic that is being targeted, I am in serious trouble. The commercials would indicate a number of problems that I have or am likely to soon have.
Taking the commercials at face value, this is what I know about myself: I haven’t done a very good job of saving money. It is time to consider a life insurance policy to cover the cost of my burial. My hair is thinning and my stomach is expanding (Peyton Manning is suggesting that I just buy bigger shirts.) AARP has the answers to all or most of my concerns as I age. And then there is that pink-elephant-in-the-room issue. If I want to secure happiness for both me and my spouse, there is no end to the products that can “put-money-in-the-bank.” Apparently, my demographic must also be characterized by empathy, because there are any number of worthy causes to which we could and should be donating our hard-earned resources. It used to be, the only problem that I thought was a worry was the “heartbreak of psoriasis.”
There are also some problems that I didn’t know were problems.
For example, my use of cash for the simplest of purchases is apparently slowing the wheels of progress, not to mention the check-out line at the food court. I can never keep ahead of the technology curve. The television that was the key to the future when I bought it two years ago is now destined for the obscurity of garage sales and donation bins. Just as soon as I figure what they are talking about, I am looking to join the people who are mad because, “It’s my money and I want it now.” That’s the kind of instant gratification that America can’t get enough of.
It has been interesting to watch what Madison Avenue thinks of our society. It is unfortunate when we allow somebody else to define who we are, what we should be doing and how good we should be feeling about ourselves. It is also a sad commentary that so many billions of dollars are being spent on issues that are truly peripheral to our true existence.
That, too, is a topic for another day.
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