Saturday, September 19, 2009

Putting the Mute Button on Hold: An Experiment

This week, I ran across an article detailing complaints about advertising on national sports broadcasts. Apparently, some media watchdog group is unhappy that many commercials that air during games are not kid friendly (e.g. ads for beer, R-rated movies, and the ubiquitous erectile dysfunction pills). What caught my eye in particular was this quote: "Parents should be able to watch a football game with their kids without having to either mute the television or explain the side effects of a life enhancement drug." This resonated with me because I have made the habit of muting commercials for years. About the only programming that I watch live anymore is sports broadcasts; so with the exception of Super Bowl Sunday, I never watch commercials. I have gotten so good hitting the mute button at the correct times that I don't have to consciously think about it; I just naturally hit it when the commercials start, I usually turn on music during the break, and then I time it perfectly coming back.

But is this right? After all, in theory I wouldn't be enjoying the programming without the commercials. And at one time in my life, advertisements actually paid my salary. So, I decided to make an experiment today. I determined that I would give commercials one more chance. And just to avoid the controversy detailed in the above article, I decided to watch commercials on the Big Ten Network (during the Wisconsin Badger football game), as that network has very high standards; it has even banned alcohol companies from advertising. But I also determined that I would make careful note of what exactly was being asked of me-- so I planned to write down the companies or products that are advertised, then research to see how much it would cost me to follow their exhortations. So without further ado, here is a list of companies that advertised on today's game, companies whose messages I had heretofore ignored, along with some brief commentary:

Phillips HD Television--I'm pretty happy with my two television sets, but apparently I need a new one. Cost: $350 for the cheapest model at Sears
State Farm Auto Insurance-- I'm pretty happy with what my independent agent has lined up for me (Secura), but I guess I've got to switch. I'm going to be conservative and say that it'll cost me an extra $30 a year. (Running total= $380)
Hampton Hotel-- I'm not planning on needing a hotel anytime soon, and when I do travel I generally don't look for a particular brand name, but apparently I need to book a room. The closest one to me is 35 miles away, and I can get a single room for about $75 before tax. ($455) This actually doesn't cost anything. I've probably got to download some boring podcasts, though.
Verizon Wireless-- I'm happy with U.S. Cellular, but I guess I need to cancel my contract. All told, this will probably set me back about $300 for a year. ($755)
Buffalo Wild Wings-- Closest restaurant is 27 miles. With gas and meals for my wife and me, I'd say the cost would be around $40 ($795)
Suzuki SX4- It's nothing special, but I'm happy with the car I've got now. It's nice not to have to make payments. But I guess I need to shell out for a new SUV at $16,100. And now I need the calculator to keep track of my running total (and we aren't even done with the first quarter): ($16,895).
Principal Financial Group-- Okay, without getting into my personal finances, I'll just say I'm not in the market for this company's services right now. And their costs aren't exactly advertised up front, so whatever.
Rotel Dip-- The website doesn't say how much it costs; I'll guess five bucks. ($16,900)
Auto Owners Insurance-- Gee, I just switched to State Farm. Now I've got to switch again. I'll say this costs another $10 ($16,910).
Polaris Midsize Ranger-- I've never ridden an ATV in my life, but I guess we all need new hobbies. Too bad this one will cost me $8,000--for the cheapest model ($24,910).
Green Bay Packer Wisconsin Lottery Instant Scratch Game-- I once bought a lottery ticket for a buck. I didn't win. I figured I gave it my best shot and I decided it wasn't meant to be. Now I've got to buy this $10 ticket. Maybe it'll pay for the Polaris Midsize Ranger. Probably not, though. ($24,920).
2010 Ford Edge-- The "Green SUV." I guess it will look good next to my other new SUV, even at a price tag of $27,000. ($51,920).
2010 XF Jaguar-- I'm running out of room to park this stuff. And at $51,000, this doubles my expenditures so far ($102,920).
Big 10 Universities-- It's hard to figure out what they want here. Should I go to all 11 of them? And I already have an undergrad and post-graduate degree. Maybe I could just make a $10 donation to each school's endowment ($103,030).
2010 Toyota Camry-- Yay, another car. This one is a bit cheaper at $19,400. ($122,430).
Charter Business Bundle-- Well, I don't have my own business. But I guess I need this. The website is coy about cost. I'll guess $150. ($122,580). More boring podcasts to download
Big Ten Network-- I'll have to watch more programming and see some of their other commercials
Honda Generators-- I've never needed a generator in my life, but I guess everyone has to have one, for tailgate parties if for no other reason. Cost is $300 ($122,880).
Jack Links Beef Jerky-- I was always loyal to Randy Savage, but I'll have to switch my brand, I guess. You can order directly from their website-- $19 for a four-pack ($122,899).
Sure Start Roundup-- I'm not a farmer, but I guess I need this stuff for my lawn. I can get a big jug for a couple hundred bucks ($123,099).
Phillips HD Television-- Great, I need another one. ($123,499)
Sonic Restaurant-- They are pumping a three dollar meal. Too bad it'll take me over an hour to get to the nearest location. ($124,012)
Hampton Inn-- Well, make that a two-night stay ($124,087)
Penn State University-- Again, not sure what they want from me. I'll give them an extra ten bucks for the scholarship fund ($124,097)
Rotel Dip-- Make that two jars please ($125,002).
State Farm Insurance-- I guess I'll be switching again.
Priority Mail Flat Rate Packages-- I don't have to send anything; maybe I'll sell some of my old comic books on ebay so I can use a $5 container ($125,007).
2010 Ford F Series Pick-Up-- Ah yes, another vehicle. Just what I needed, especially at $21,400. ($146,407).
Charter High Speed Internet-- I already have this, thank you very much.
Priority Mail-- All right, time to dig out some more comics ($146,412).
Buffalo Wild Wings-- Time for another road trip ($146,452)
Rotel Dip-- That's enough! That's enough! That's enough! We are at halftime, and I just can't take any more of this. The halftime show itself is loaded with ads, and the prospect of sitting through them is more than I can bear. I'll estimate that if I had followed through all the way, my total cost would have been greater than $300,000.

What have I learned? Almost all the ads that I have been skipping are completely irrelevant to my needs as a consumer. They are also repetitive, and they make huge demands of me. Are there any other areas of life where we put up with people that are irrelevant, repetitive, and demanding? (Note to any of my students that might be reading this--don't answer that).

I realize I'm not treading any ground that Seth Godin hasn't already covered before. But it took me all of 90 minutes to remind myself why the predominant marketing technique of many companies is outdated and ineffective. The vast majority of people living today have been born into a world where television programming is interrupted by commercials. This is the way it has always been. But that doesn't mean it is the way it should be. But until something different comes along, I'll keep my mute button handy.


Blogger Ben's Blog said...

I would have to agree with you on this. Just during an episode of family guy I would have to say I am expected to spend anywhere between $1000 and $15000 (depending on whether a car commercial is on). The question that I often ask myself is "do these marketing strategies actually work?"...I had made the habit of changing the channel when commercials came on, however I noticed a strange conundrum; it seems all the stations I care to watch plan to have commercials aired at the same time. It seems I am destined to go around the dial until finally I get back to the channel where I was watching seinfeld, only to find an advertisement for "Trojan Ecstasy". No thanks I'm good. Can we just get back to the show about nothing? Instead of the commercials about nothing.



8:50 PM  
Anonymous Kevin.Gries said...

My favorite part of this is about the erectile disfunction commercial during NFL games. I can't stand those commercials. It makes everyone who is watching those awkward and completely kills an NFL party on the spot. I also like how you mentioned the Big 10 network and college football games. I am a huge college football fan and it is sickning watching a commercial about one of the schools that is playing. The audience for a typical college football game is college kids and adults who are watching their alma mater. So what is the need for those? Sure some high school kids watch it, but they aren't going to choose their college based on that commercial. Chances are they are already interested in the school if they are watching them play football.
Commercials are way to redundant and expect too much out of us. You hit it right on the head.

11:14 PM  
Blogger KD said...

This intrigued me. I may actually give this a try. I have children and I've never really paid attention. Maybe it's time.

7:50 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home