Freed LaSor: Learning to understand TV advertising
Television commercials generally offer viewers a good opportunity to get off the couch and restore blood circulation or fetch something from the refrigerator. But sometimes TV advertising offers genuine insight into human existence and the natural world — insights that are riveting simply because of what they teach us about ourselves and the world we live in. Or perhaps the insights are into the brains of advertising agencies.
Take, for example, the commercial for a pill that is supposed to correct a problem men occasionally experience in their senior years. Most of us understand — from reputation if not personal experience — how the problem manifests itself and what relief would look like. Especially when they tell us to “seek medical attention” if the solution continues for more than four hours.
It is clear they cannot show on family TV what the symptom or the corrected behavior would look like, but come on, advertising executives, for you to show a man and a woman, hand-in-hand, immersed in side-by-side bathtubs: really? Who has side-by-side bathtubs?
And further to have those bathtubs placed in the great outdoors, with a lovely sunset in the distance — I mean, could anything be more improbable? How about a camel drinking out of one of the bathtubs, or the man fishing in his bathtub? No matter how bizarre a scene you might conjure up, you would be hard pressed to find anything as off the subject or unrelated to the pill that is being advertised. Even so, some Madison Avenue ad firm probably banked a large fee for that bit of creative (but visually attractive) misdirection.
And then there is the product that is currently being advertised for memory loss in older adults. Now here again, I don’t mean to make light of a problem like cognitive dysfunction, something that some readers (especially the ones who write nasty letters after publication of one of my columns) experience to varying degrees. And I don’t mean to imply that the problem is unreal or unimportant. But the medication they are advertising boasts that it is made from a substance discovered in jellyfish.
Jellyfish? Who knew jellyfish suffered memory loss? And just how, pray tell, do you know if a jellyfish is suffering memory loss? “I know I put my glasses somewhere, but I can’t find them!” is not something you hear very often from a jellyfish. Come to think of it, I can’t remember when I last heard a jellyfish say anything. Maybe I hang with the wrong crowd. Or maybe I’m unnecessarily skeptical. But I have to wonder if the advertiser came up with this idea in part because they knew no one would ever be able to disprove their statement.
And heaven help the poor memory loss patient who finds a bottle of the pills mentioned in the first example above, and takes a handful of them without remembering what they are for. You just know he’s going to be headed for urgent care in four hours to get the medical treatment they recommend.
If he can remember the instructions, of course. And if he can remember where he put his glasses and car keys.
It’s clear age-related products are big sellers with the American public, which makes an interesting statement about the demographics of the USA. But it also raises another question: do young Americans watch TV any longer? And if so, why do advertisers not try to sell to them? Maybe they are all playing video games and texting each other. Advertisers are missing a bet by not pitching products for sore thumb muscles.
Fred LaSor occasionally watches TV in Minden, where he retired a decade ago.