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Watching Commercials

by Stephen Lautens


April 27, 2001

There's a little game I play when watching TV. 

Instead of tuning out during the commercials, I do the last thing they expect us to do - I actually pay attention to them. You see, noticing what kind of commercials they show during a program you tells you who they think should be watching.

Companies spend big bucks to figure out who's tuning in to what shows. They phone you in the middle of dinner. They ask you questions in shopping malls. More time and effort is put into market research for selling cars than there is into most diseases. And that lets them sell advertising so they can market the right products to the right audience. In other words, telling us what products we can't live without.

Once you start paying attention to commercials, it's kind of fun seeing who they think you are.

Start with the easy ones - sports events. You'll notice the commercials are pretty much always about trucks and beer. So you can figure they assume the people who watch sports events are mostly manly men who are likely to buy trucks or beer. Or maybe we supposed to drink a lot of beer and then go out and buy a truck. Or if we already have a truck, we might drink a lot of beer, wreck the truck, and have to buy another one. Either way, trucks and beer are always somehow involved.

But notice you don't see a lot of truck commercials during figure skating shows. What you do see are commercials for mini-vans. That's because advertisers know it's a different audience. Either they believe the people watching figure skating are mostly women who are much more practical about their transportation needs, or feel any man sitting on the couch next to her has already given up the will to live. After all, the mini-van is the symbol of man's complete and utter surrender to domesticity.

If you're a man and the show you're watching seems to only have commercials for shampoo and feminine hygiene products that are never fully explained, you should change the channel immediately until you find something with police officers beating on skinny, shirtless white guys. You'll know you've found the right channel if all the commercials are for high cholesterol snack foods.

You'll also notice that children's programming and shows aimed at men have remarkably similar commercials. In addition to ads for fatty snacks, microwave pizza and sugary soft drinks, commercials for children and men tend to only be fifteen to thirty seconds long. My wife says that's because men and children have shorter attention spans. I say it's because… Hey, what's that going by the window?

And if all the commercials in the show you're watching are the ones where people congratulate themselves for buying life insurance, adult diapers, home will kits, or beds that adjust so you never have to leave them, then you should definitely check your pulse.

So I'm going to watch my favorite TV show. And I hope you don't think less of me because all the commercials seem to be for fighting robot toys and cereal with enough sugar to rot the teeth of a small nation.

Those ad guys don't know me at all.

© Stephen Lautens 2001

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