There’s a cable TV commercial that makes my wife crazy. Drives her nuts. Her minimal response to this unwanted intrusion into our otherwise peaceful den is to mute it (she really, really hates the background music). Her maximal response is to get up and leave the room. In both cases, she loudly and angrily decries the commercial’s existence and wonders how something so vile could be created, let alone broadcast to innocent TV viewers.

And the worst part? On the channel where we get most of our news, this commercial runs every five minutes. At least it seems that way. It’s a sales pitch for a local crafts business, and the store’s owner has bought an ungodly amount of airtime. There’s no escaping it, short of a murder/suicide pact.

I used to work in advertising, so I was part of the problem. I try to explain to my wife the perverse nature of advertising psychology: Just because an advertisement annoys you, that doesn’t mean you won’t try the advertised product or service. This is confirmed by tons of scientific research. So, no matter how much you might hate the Charmin toilet paper commercial, you might find yourself squeezing a roll in the grocery store and throwing it into your shopping cart.

TV advertising isn’t as fun and clever as it used to be. In the Golden Age of Advertising, millions of people watched the Super Bowl just to see the halftime commercials. Remember Volkswagen? (It makes your house look bigger.) Or Wendy’s? (Where’s the beef?) Or Apple’s dystopian, 60-second “1984”ad, shown only once during Super Bowl XVIII. This was a magical time in advertising when The Big Idea reigned. And a few ad agencies hit it out of the park.

Today, most advertisers just batter us with uncreative entreaties to buy, buy, buy! I said I worked for an ad agency. I did, for two years. Do I feel guilty about that? Not really, it was great fun. I worked with smart, creative people and we won lots of awards, including Agency of the Year. We were Mad Men (and women). The experience armed me with a strong portfolio that landed me future jobs in nonprofit communications, where I was happier.

Today most advertising has moved online, with its own set of viewing annoyances, but that’s another story.

Remember Bruce Springsteen’s song, “57 Channels (And Nothin’ On)”? Today, if you have a premium cable package, you’ve got 500-plus channels, and for the most part, nothin’s on.  The biggest mistake you can make is trying to watch a favorite movie on a commercial channel. When the movie starts, the advertising blocks are spaced about 20 minutes apart; but as you continue to watch, those ad blocks get closer and closer. And by the time you’re on the edge of your seat, waiting for the big climax, the ads come flying at you every couple minutes. It’s enough to put your shoe through the screen.

It’s not called “commercial TV” for nothin’.

– Special to the Telegram

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