watching t.v. and thoughts on advertising

I’m watching the Daily Show with Jon Stewart right now. It’s available on the Comedy Central website. A few years ago, John and I got rid of cable t.v. because it’s insanely and stupidly expensive. We didn’t like paying so much (about $160/month for cable tv and cable internet) for something like 80 – 130 channels — honestly, I can’t recall exactly how many, because who watches all those channels?
There’s like 5 ESPN channels. I don’t even like sports — nobody in our household does — but cable packages include a plethora of channels dedicated to shit we don’t care about. We can’t opt out, we have to have them. I don’t want to pay for MTV or MTV-2, but if I had cable t.v., I wouldn’t have a choice. And even though I was paying out the wazoo, there were still 7-10 minute-long commercial breaks. What the hell? Why am I paying extra for these channels (remember, you do get basic t.v. without having a cable package) if they’re loaded with commercials?!? And why do I have to pay extra-extra for channels like HBO and Showtime, but I still get commercials?
Remember when they started doing that thing where they would play the commercials — about 3 to 5 advertisements — then the musical chime and canned laughter indicating your show was back sounded, but it wasn’t back. It was just a notice saying, “Your programming will return shortly, after these messages,” and then they played more commercials. I hated all those commercials so, so much, so we canceled our cable t.v. package to watch t.v. solely through the internet.

That was when Hulu just started, and their commercials were minimal and usually advertising a nonprofit or something you’d want to hear about. You could watch South Park or Comedy Central programming almost completely commercial free. We had Netflix, too, which doesn’t have commercials at all. Basically, there was this whole setup where you didn’t have a lot of commercials and advertising interrupting your viewing. But that’s changing. Like I said earlier, I’m watching the Daily Show right now, and I just saw 3 commercials in a row.

1. A rip-off of a Saturday Night Live skit, except instead of fake jeans they’re selling Verizon phone plans.

2. A guy marrying a piece of bacon in order to sell Jack in the Box bacon hamburgers. Get it? Get it? Because men are supposed to be afraid of commitment, but Jack in the Box bacon hamburgers are so manly that a man will commit to this shit! So men will commit to meat!

He picked out a tiara and veil for his wedding meat.
image source

3. A woman and a man standing in their yard, playing on their smartphones. A neighbor asks them a question, and they answer, then snark, “So 2 seconds ago.” This situation repeats several times. The commercial is advertising how fast/ awesome AT&T speeds are by having the protagonists — the people we’re supposed to project ourselves onto as phone owners — be complete and utter assholes. This is not a one-off, but a whole advertising campaign:

I just don’t get this trend in advertising. I really, really don’t. I can almost see the adversarial, tearing-down-the-competitor trend we had a few years ago — remember when Quiznos had those “Subway Sucks” commercials? I enjoy Subway, but sometimes I used to eat at Quiznos. After those commercials, I just kind of . . . stopped eating at Quiznos. I don’t know, I felt like the logical conclusion to “Subway sucks,” was an unspoken, “and if you like them, you suck, too! To not suck, eat at Quiznos!

But while I didn’t like that commercial, I could at least see the logic behind it. Quiznos had a short 30 second spot, and they decided it was a better and more efficient use of their time to try to be hip (insulting) instead of going into why they believe their company provides a superior sandwich product and/ or customer experience. Nowadays, so many commercials don’t even give the pretense of saying, “Our competitors suck.” They’re just going, “You consumers suck. You’re awful. You’re assholes and you know it. Buy our shit, because we’re assholes, too . . . just like you!”

Watching commercials these days, you get the sense that not only do the corporations selling us stuff have no idea what the average American’s day-to-day life is like:

5 Hour Energy — “For when you don’t have time for coffee.”
Seriously? Seriously? When you don’t have time for coffee? Who can’t spare 5 minutes here or there?! 
Look at that guy! He sets his alarm, but he’s still too lazy to make coffee! He’s so lazy he doesn’t even have time to stop on the way to work for coffee, or to donate to his company breakroom with decent coffee that he knows everyone will enjoy — but he works at a job that pays enough he can chug a 5 Hour Energy drink costing $3/ apiece every day. He just doesn’t have time for coffee.
Look, don’t sell 5 hour Energy — or any energy drink, really — by saying it’s “easier/ quicker/ better than coffee.” It ignores all the other awesome reasons people drink coffee, like the taste or the cute barista, or that it’s provided free in the breakroom. If you’re selling your product by dogging on the ubiquitous coffee, at the very least try pointing out how global climate change is depleting the world’s coffee and chocolate crops, so in a few years we may not even have the option of a morning mocha — so make the switch to 5 Hour Energy now and save the planet!
You actually get the sense the corporations actively despise us. They think we’re lazy, self-involved, rude, and selfish. Protagonists of commercials, in trying to depict the everyguy or everygal, often end up depicting some of the most disliked and derided stereotypes, and it’s just sad. Why would I want to buy something from someone who clearly thinks I’m crap? And I’m hardly the first person to say this, so why aren’t advertisers changing their tactics?
I like Costco. Costco doesn’t advertise. Customers talk about how awesome Costco is, or the latest deal they picked up at Costco, and it spreads through word of mouth how awesome that place is. The closest thing they have to an advertisement is that coupon booklet they give you at the store, or the Costco Connection magazine. Why can’t more corporations rely on the quality of their goods and service to bring in customers?
As for television, I’d like them to deregulate the cable packages. I like it when I can access the shows I want, when I want. I’d gladly pay HBO directly to have HBOgo, and never have to deal with cable t.v. or all those other ridiculous channels I don’t want. I’d pay $2 – $5 extra a month on my Netflix streaming account to have HBO and Showtime and AMC stream commercial-free episodes to Netflix the same night they air on television. I’m tired of not having any real choice in my internet/ t.v. provider or the offered t.v. packages. All the rebranding in the world doesn’t change the fact that Comcast sucks.
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