Thursday, February 05, 2009

I was watching TV commercials when a football game broke out

Sunday night we celebrated the annual Super Bowl ritual in America.

We sat down with friends, relatives, cases of beer or other alcohol, plenty of food, then gorged ourselves while watching a bunch of new commercials. Oh yeah, somewhere in there was a football game.

I'm not what would be considered a football fan, although I usually catch parts of a few games during the season, and if the teams playing in the Super Bowl are interesting to me then I might catch part of the game. The commercials I don't care about. What I can't understand is groups of people watching the event just to see the commercials. Jeez, folks, we're inundated with commercials, at least a quarter of every hour of television viewing is made up of people pitching products at us. And you go out of your way to watch them?

Of the commercials I saw this year I can't really think of any that I thought were especially clever or well made, despite some advertising pundits on the 10:00 o'clock news pronouncing which ones were flops and which were hits. So what? If Coke spends millions making a catchy commercial and pays $3M to play it on the Super Bowl does it make me more prone to go out and buy a case of Coke? Hell no. That's me. I am seriously jaded by advertising. But I'm not the typical consumer advertisers are trying to reach. The scary thing is, for many consumers, advertising is how they find out what useless products they want to spend their money on.

Thirty-five years ago I worked with an advertising man who had worked in television when it first came on the air in Salt Lake City, in the late 1940s. He worked for KUTA radio, which started KUTV, Channel 2, still a powerful station in our area. He told me stories of the earliest days of TV. Speaking of commercials, he had been to a local company called Southeast Furniture to sell them television time. The owner of Southeast Furniture was a prominent local businessman, Horace Sorenson. Horace didn't want anything to do with the fancy new medium of television. Newspaper ads and word of mouth worked just fine with him. Rod was authorized to make an offer: He would run a couple of spots for free on their evening movie (no network TV at that time ran programs after a certain point, so locals had their own programming after 9:00 PM.)

Horace said he had some ugly green chairs he'd never been able to sell. Rod brought a photographer in who took pictures of the chairs, Rod wrote some copy, and the commercial appeared a couple of times around 11:00 o'clock that night. The next day people came into the furniture asking for those chairs they'd seen on TV, and Horace sold all he had in stock. After that he advertised on TV.

Advertisers spend billions of dollars to influence us to buy. They might be advertising hamburgers, prescription drugs for erectile dysfunction, or new cars...but they're really still just ugly green chairs.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot. Congratulations, Pittsburgh. I was rooting for you all along. And I liked the Bruce Springsteen halftime show.

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