Sitting down to watch the television today is more than just enjoying your favorite program. Commercials are a huge part of today's television programming. Seldom can we sit down and watch a show on T.V. without interruptions of commercials trying to persuade us to buy something or send somebody our money. The people behind the production of commercials use glamorous objects to appeal to the consumers and to, in turn, provoke them to buy their product. It seems to me that the effectiveness of commercials today is augmented by the humor present in them; therefore, humor is the key element in creating a quality commercial. Although humor is a practical ingredient in commercials, producers use many other methods such as sexuality, sincerity, guilt, and culinary concerns to get their message across. Furthermore, the work that goes into creating a commercial is overlooked and must be viewed in a different manner.
A commercial is an amazing component of advertisement. By definition a commercial is "an advertisement on television or radio"(Dictionary 175). One commercial only lasts an average of thirty seconds and, if run in a good time slot, costs anywhere from fifty-five to one hundred thousand dollars (Baldwin 2). To think that a thirty second commercial can cost one hundred thousand dollars is outrageous. If it costs that much money for so little time then what is the logic behind airing commercials on television instead of placing an ad in the newspaper or dictating an advertisement on the radio?
Originally, commercials began on the radio simply because the radio has been around longer than the television. Once the television was invented and introduced to the public, commercials became more and more beneficial. A variety of explanations exists as to why television advertising is preferred to radio ads, some of what are: on the television a consumer is able to see what he may be purchasing, television promotes the selling to individuals as well as a family, on the T.V., commercials come at the proper psychological time for the viewer between shows unlike print advertising, has the same advantages of radio sound and most of the time better quality sound is heard on the television, and more people watch television because it is habit-forming (Seehafer 18). These, along with a number of other trivial advantages, are why television is looked upon to be the better advertising agent by most people.
Although television is most likely the best source of advertisement, there are also a couple disadvantages to commercials on T.V.. The two biggest reasons for the radio being more advantageous than television are the cost of making a commercial and the message put forth by a commercial is often impermanent. As mentioned before a commercial can cost up to (and frequently over) one hundred thousand dollars. The second disadvantage is less commonly heard but just as significant. When watching a commercial a person is less likely to remember the purpose of the commercial after it is finished than if they read the ad in a paper or magazine, which they can read and re-read as many times as they desired; one cannot, however, re-watch a commercial(Seehafer 20). Approximately nine out of ten people forget what a commercial is about five minutes after the commercial is over (Internet TV Commercials 1).
Commercials have been around for decades. Ever since the beginning of television the question of advertising over the T.V. has been present. Commercials became a major issue beginning in the mid 1940's, starting as "small jingles and catchy phrases" (Internet TV Commercials 1). The first big time name in television commercials was probably Betty Furness. Beginning in 1949, Furness starred in commercials for Westinghouse, advertising refrigerators and appliances (Internet History of T.V. 5). The 1950's were a more prominent time for commercials. A Lucky Strike cigarette commercial was named the commercial of the year in 1950. The beginning of many sitcoms advocated the growth of advertising over the television. Many people tuned into new sitcoms such as "I Love Lucy," "The Bob Hope Show," and "Captain Kangaroo," and began to pay attention to the commercials and what their meanings were. In 1953, color broadcasting arrived in the United States. One year later the first color commercial was televised. By May of 1957, in an average week, 420 commercials were observed by viewers, totaling around 5 hours, and 8 minutes (Internet History of TV 1-5).
Today it is easy to see how far commercials have come in the last fifty years. Color in television brought about many new tricks in advertising merchandise over the tube. Bright florescent colors were, and still are, used to catch the eye of a viewer. When commercials first started everything was in black and white and everything was more or less dull to the naked eye. When a commercial is trying to come across serious, drab colors are often utilized to keep the viewers mind in a solemn state. In the beginning, when commercials were black and white, they all could be perceived as a dull and depressing. Other than color, the amount of people noticing commercials are far greater than that of the past. Now that more homes own a television, more people are seeing commercials, in turn, making television the number one, most effective method of advertising. "People rely on television for information more than any other medium" (Internet TV Commercials 1).
The main purpose of a commercial is to expose to the viewer what is out in the world and how to obtain it (Internet TV Commercials 1). By advertising over the television the producers are able to reach a much wider realm of people and promote their products much faster to consumers all over the world. The commercials on television have interesting affects on people. Even though many people believe that commercials make consumers want to buy a product, psychologists believe that the commercials make consumers more ready to buy. In explaining the meaning of this they just say that it affects a persons "attitude toward a product" (Baldwin 8).
There are many guidelines to follow when creating a 'good' commercial. A commercial should be made to grasp and hold the viewers attention. There are three main rules to follow when making a television commercial: these are, (1) "a commercial must make a memorable impression," (2) "a commercial must communicate the intended meaning," and (3) "a commercial must stir the viewer's attitude toward the product" (Baldwin 14). In order for a commercial to affect a viewer the commercial must be interesting enough to obtain the viewer's mind off of the regularly scheduled program and on to the advertisement. By being more creative and showing more diversity than their competition producers will grab the viewers attention and successfully reach the consumers and provoke them to buy their product.
In creating a 'good' commercial producers use many tactics to bring their point across to the consumer. The main ways are by using sincerity, sexuality, guilt, dietary desire, and humor. There is nothing more depressing than sitting down to relax and watch television and seeing a commercial with pictures of starving children from another country flashing on the screen. These commercials come to us in a serious manner; often they ask for our money. In a way, it seems that these commercials are trying to make us feel somewhat responsible for what is happening and deceive people into sending them money. They claim that a penny a month will save a starving child's life (I'm sure that the money goes directly to the starving persons also). These types of advertisements are at least one of the reason that people do not enjoy watching T.V. today. When someone sees a commercial like this they become despondent and no longer appreciate what they sat down to do, which is to relax and savor their favorite programs. This type of commercial uses both sincerity and guilt to affect the viewer in a way to provoke them to send money.
One of the most frequently used ways of creating a television commercial is using sexuality to appeal to men or women. Petty, shallow people sometimes see these ads and believe that if they buy that product then they will look like the model promoting the merchandise. A good example of this is commercials promoting cosmetics such as shampoo, make-up, hairspray and deodorant. The most pointless is of course the deodorant commercials. One that comes to mind is the one where the announcer asks the most beautiful woman in the world "what is the most important thing she puts on." Of course in the commercial it shows fancy lingerie, seductive dresses, and most importantly lots of skin. The woman answers, "its my deodorant." Now that is real sexy. Do people actually think that if they use that brand of deodorant that they will turn into a gorgeous person? Even though the use of a beautiful woman has nothing to do with using the deodorant the commercial is successful in getting its point across. The use of sex appeal undeniably makes watching commercials more enjoyable, and by seeing these types of commercials the observer stays content with the advertisement. The work put into one of these pointless commercials is remarkable, but a person who would go out and buy this product is clearly ignorant.
Another method used by producers is something that can be called dietary desire. This simply means that consumers are motivated to go out and buy food just because of what it looks like on the television. How many of us have seen an advertisement for a Big Mac on T.V. and had to go to McDonald's and get one right away, only to realize that the actual burger was not nearly as delectable or as sizeable as the one seen on the television? Although, these commercials have no effect on someone who has just finished an appetizing meal and is, therefore, no longer hungry, it does (and will) induce a famished person to buy this product.
By making commercials humorous producers make the consumer more apt to be attentive to their commercials. Stan Freberg, the president of a humor organization, believes that in order for a commercial to be effective it has to be (1) "musically memorable," (2) "absolutely unorthodox in approach," (3) "humorous," or (4) "all three, whenever possible." Freberg maintains that the reason for humor being so effective in advertising is because people will do anything for a laugh (Seehafer 197). These commercials have no affect on me to purchase the product endorsed. Most people just find humorous commercials entertaining and creative, even though they usually do not have anything to do with the product. For example, a commercial for Miller Lite beer explains this theory perfectly. The commercial begins by explaining that any commercial can work if it shows the product's logo before and after the ad, no matter what is in between. Then they continue by showing the Miller Lite logo, then a man walking through a corn field without any clothes but he does have a beer bottle cap over his pelvic area. The commercial the concludes with another shot of the Miller Lite logo. The commercial, indeed, does work even though it has nothing to do with the beer. It is this type of method that make commercials more pleasurable to watch.
There is a quote that states "nobody ever bought anything from a clown." This statement is not completely true in my opinion. What this statement means is that no one will buy merchandise from a person who is not strictly business-like in their advertising. The reason that this statement does not seem accurate is as Freberg says, "people will do anything for a laugh" (Seehafer 197). When a viewer sits down and watches something and it makes them laugh then it will grasp their attention and they will learn more of the product being endorsed and will be more likely to be interested in the item being sold. If a person sees something that makes them depressed the first reaction they have is to avoid watching it, and in turn will turn it off, and if they do not see it they do not buy it. Two out of three people will buy well known brand items due to television ads (Internet TV Commercials 1). The well known items are usually advertised more often than the generic products because bigger companies have more money to spend on promoting their products. As a result, more people see the ads for the more well known merchandise and become familiar with the product and have a tendency to buy it. If a person sees an item more than another, then, their instincts drive them to buy the more endorsed product. While humor is an effective method to use in producing a commercial, the producers need to know when and how to use it. Freberg believes that there are great dangers in being off-base in creating humorous ads (Seehafer 198). For example, one does not want to use humor in trying to bring across a serious point. By knowing the best possible methods of making a television commercial producers can maximize the chances of their product being sold.
Knowing the tricks commercial composers use to influence consumers into purchasing their merchandise certainly aids in not being tricked in to buying something that is pointless. Many people believe that commercials are a tactic used by producers to dupe people into buying their products. "Advertising involves nothing more devious than knowing people, understanding their basic needs, and being able to communicate with them" (Seiden 3). That brings up the question of effectiveness of commercials. If one is able to see through the trickery of commercials, then they are of no help in the marketing of their products. Although some commercials are a waste of T.V. time, numerous commercials are entertaining and enjoyable to watch. Television without commercials would be admirable; however, the humorous commercials do add a touch of diversity in the everyday programming of television today. People should think less of how commercials are there to corrupt our minds into buying something, and more of the amount of work that goes into creating effective advertisements to inform the viewing people of the world of what is out there and how to obtain it.
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Seehafer, Gene F., and Jack W. Laemmar. Successful Television and Radio Advertising. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1959.
Seiden, Hank. Advertising Pure and Simple. New York: Amacom, 1976.
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