Saturday, 23 March 2013

ARGUMENTELLY: television adverts

Saturday, 23 March 2013
Last week's inaugural edition of Argumentelly offered two opposing views on Comic Relief's Red Nose Day telethon. Journalist Iain Hepburn argued against the popular fundraising event, while I argued for it.

The result of the reader vote was clear: 72.5% agreed that Red Nose Day doesn't offer much entertainment nowadays, and only 27.5% of readers think it's still a fantastic evening of television. I concede defeat.

This week's Argumentelly tackles the pro's and con's of television advertising, with Rob D Webster first to put forward his positive thoughts on commercial breaks...

by Rob D Webster

You don't need to love every advert to love the commercial break. Individual adverts aren't always great. I'll freely admit that a good 90% of my televisual yelling is directed at adverts I disagree with—but I'd maintain that there's far more to the ad break than the short films it's made of.

Not to say ads are inherently bad. Sure, nobody's ever going to say "all adverts are good", but when has anyone ever said all of anything is good? "All telly is good", "all films are good", "all books are good"? As it is, the advert has developed into an art form unto itself, with its own grammar and diction, and while I'm sure you can rant at length about your least favourite advert, I have a hunch most readers will also have a favourite. You might watch more adverts you dislike than TV programmes you dislike, but that's only because you don't pick and choose your ads in the same way. "Good things, when short, are twice as good," and the best adverts, just like the best telly, are likeable, quotable, and memorable.

Likewise, as the marketing industry becomes ever more devious—all viral ads and flash-mobs and product placement—I'm beginning to appreciate the refreshing directness of a televised commercial break. "Here's a vacuum cleaner, and I'm going to sing you a song about how great it is. If you like it, that's cracking, buy several. If you don't, that's fine too, here's some money towards your favourite programme, and we'll see how you feel in fifteen minutes." I'd hesitate to use the word sincere, but TV ads broadly don't feel conniving or manipulative in the same way as editing posters into reruns, or sneaking slogans into captchas. I'm becoming increasingly grateful for the direct approach, and if that same approach helps fund my favourite programmes, I can't see that as anything but a net win.

The world's first TV ad was broadcast in the USA and cost $9, which was probably a lot of money in those days. Nowadays, you can add at least four figures to that number, and corporations spend that money not because they're trying to brainwash you (though I don't doubt they would if they could) but because they're clamouring for your approval. If you like an ad, that's dandy, and if you don't, that's sometimes even better, because it means that corporation is effectively paying you to hate them! They dance for you, you turn their nose up, and tens of thousands of pounds still drain out of that company's bank account to find a better life as a CGI dinosaur's fang, or as a quiz show jackpot.

Good ads are an art form. Bad adverts are stains left behind when big businesses spunk money up the wall, but I really like that all that money gets collected in a little vial and poured into something I love as much as television. Every McDonald's advert I watch, for instance, represents a large sum of money going from a bad place to a good place, and it's hard not to get a cathartic kind of thrill out of that. That I think it's disingenuous mawkish pap is half the fun. "Sorry, Ronald" I can chide. "I'm not buying it, and I'm not buying your awful papier-mâché clown food, either. Now, get your wallet out, I fancy another series of Black Mirror." Loving a commercial is great, but basically optional. Loving the commercial break? That's just common sense.

by Dan Owen

Who watches TV adverts these days? It was once common to refer to them as being better than the shows they help pay for, but things have changed. Commercials breaks have long been cues for a tea or toilet break, but boffins have found a way to make them completely redundant with the advent of the personal video recorder (PVR). That's a fancy name for your Sky+ box. Or TiVo. Or whatever. You know, the clever little box that killed the VHS cassette and DVD Recorder industry in one fell swoop, which records television and lets you fast-forward through the adverts later. This is technically nothing new, but nobody in the '80s and '90s had enough video tapes to make this way of digesting TV practicable. Not even those oddball kids who asked for a pack of four blank cassettes for their birthday. The losers. (Okay, I was one.)

Why do you WANT to watch adverts on TV nowadays? The world is already full of adverts. They're everywhere. You can't use an app or read a newspaper without an advert being flung in your face. I get my annual quota in the half-hour before a movie starts at my local Odeon. The last thing I want is to willingly sit through adverts with a fat opera singer bellowing at me, a mob of Russian meerkats selling me insurance, or Barry Scott shouting about a garishly-packaged kitchen surface cleaner. You do occasionally get a classic ad—something genuinely witty, clever, or funny—but these diamonds in the rough are immediately posted to YouTube without the need to sit through hours of dirge. Stuff like the drumming Cadbury's gorilla, or the moonwalking Shetlands pony. (If that gorilla ever learns to moonwalk, watch chocolate sales soar.)

I understand how adverts are a necessary evil to pay for actual programmes, but they feel increasingly pointless given how people in the key 18-35 demographic are avoiding them via PVR recordings, DVD box-sets, or torrents with the commercials edited out. Maybe the future is clever product placement, although that's a whole other kettle of fish...

What Do YOU Think?

You've read the opposing arguments above, but which do you agree with? Cast vote below and perhaps leave a comment with your own thoughts. This week's Argumentelly winner will be decided next Thursday.

Disclaimer: opinions expressed do not always reflect the true thoughts of respective authors, but can exist to inspire debate in readers. Did you have a debating society at school, where you were asked to advocate hunting foxes or giving children Chinese burns? It's like that.