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A look at some recent TV commercials
The following commercials were
broadcast during the "Two and
a Half Men" network TV show on January 5, 2010. Since this was
one of the
top rated shows on television these may be fairly typical of
commercials people see often.
I took whatever was shown in the sequence they were
broadcast so there would be no issue about whether I had some bias in
which ones I selected. Of course
sponsors pick shows that appeal to the audience they are trying to
reach, so a
children's cartoon show or a football game would have a very different
Mercedes-Benz (30 seconds)
screen shows a red car tumbling sideways toward the camera. The
narrator is saying "When you buy a car, what are you really
buying? A shiny coat of paint, a list of features? What
about the strength of the steel, the integrity of its design, or how it
responds in extreme situations. The deeper you look, the more you
see the real differences, and the more you understand what it means to
own a Mercedes-Benz - the C Class."
By this time the camera is circling
an undamaged car. Text on the screen says: The 2010 C300 Sport
$379 for a 36 mo lease. 1.9% APR for 24 to 36 months. Now
through Feb 1, 2010. The narrator says "See your authorized
for special offers through Mercedes-Benz Financial." Further
screens show the logo and say to visit your dealer today.
main point here seems to be that you should buy a Mercedes because it
will survive better in an accident. They haven't actually
provided any evidence that it'll do better than any other car in this
respect, but they hope we'll assume it will since they brought it up.
Mastercard (15 seconds)
narrator says, in the familiar pattern "Gym membership for February,
March, and April: $68, paid automatically," as we watch a man
struggling to open the top of a pickle jar. Then we see an
attractive woman take it from him and open it herself. "Finally
convincing your boyfriend to go with you: priceless."
"Pay gym, cable, and other monthly bills online with
The commercial is humorous. Of course you can pay
other credit and debit cards as well.
Nicorette (15 seconds)
hear a beep-beep sound repeating and see a man driving a car who's
apparently trying to give up smoking. "Man, quitting sucks!" he
says. He takes a Nicorette and smiles, saying "That's
better." We see a meter
labeled "Suckometer" (which is apparently doing the beeping) with its
needle dropping from the high position to low.
The narrator says "Quitting
sucks. Nicorette makes it suck less, doubling your chances of
There's fine print that says "Versus placebo. Use as
directed. Support program increases chances of success.
Individual results may vary."
Since the chances of success are probably pretty small anyway, doubling
is probably a long way from being a sure thing, and "sucking less"
implies that even with Nicorette the process is unpleasant (I have my
doubts that it would provide the dramatic relief shown by the actor in
the commercial). It's not clear
whether the support program is necessary for their results - I would
hope the placebo case would have had the same support program, or else
it's an unscientific use of a placebo. So presumably the stuff is
at least somewhat helpful.
Milk-Bone (30 seconds)
guy is shown playing with his dog outdoors, feeding him a Milk-Bone,
and tossing something for him to catch. A woman is sitting
indoors with a dog next to her licking her face. The narrator
says, "Every time you give Milk-Bone, you give more than just twelve
vitamins and minerals. You give more than just cleaner teeth and
We now see a man, who turns out to be the narrator, moving through a
public building in a wheelchair with a dog helping push open a large
door. He goes on, "Because every time you give a Milk-Bone, you
help people like me receive dogs like Carly from the Canine Assistance
Organization. For twelve years and counting, a portion of every
Milk-Bone purchased helps make that happen." He feeds the dog a
Milk-Bone and goes outside where a woman pets the dog. "So give
the treat that gives back. It's good to give. Milk-Bone."
A hand in the picture tosses a Milk-Bone which turns into the "I" in a
Milk-Bone logo along side the words "It's good to give."
It's implied, but not actually stated, that there are twelve vitamins
and minerals in Milk-Bone and that it gives the dog cleaner teeth and
breath. These may be the case, but there's no evidence to suggest
any of this would actually make the dog healthier. I'll accept
their assertion that "a portion" of the price goes toward this charity,
but since they don't say how big a portion, it's probably very small,
trivial compared to their profit and advertising budget. It's
close to meaningless to say "a portion" without saying how big the
portion is. They
try to make it sound like buying Milk-Bone is a charitible action, but
that's pretty far-fetched.
Lipitor (60 seconds)
see a black and white picture of a man with text saying: "Bob H.,
Snowmass, CO, started Lipitor 09/07" (the ad aired in 01/10). He
says, "I was active, eating healthy; I thought I was in good
shape. So I was surprised when my doctor told me I still had high
cholesterol. That really hit me. Got me thinking about my
health. I knew I had to get my cholesterol under control.
But exercise and eating healthy weren't enough for me. Now I
trust my heart to Lipitor."
Now the scene has changed to color and shows an active couple on a boat
and then in the water snorkeling.
A different narrator starts the details: "When diet and exercise are
not enough, adding Lipitor has been shown to lower bad cholesterol 39
to 60%. Lipitor is backed by over 17 years of research.
Lipitor is not for everyone, including people with liver problems and
women who are nursing, pregnant, or may become pregnant. You need
simple blood tests to check for liver problems. Tell your doctor
if you are taking other medications or if you have any muscle pain or
weakness. This may be a sign of a rare but serious side effect."
The black and white picture of the man reappears and the original voice
says, "I thought I was doing enough to lower my cholesterol, but I
needed more help. What are you doing about yours? Have a
heart-to-heart with your doctor about your cholesterol and about
They try for the
in having a very sincere guy talk about his individual case. He
mentions thinking he was in good shape and stresses an active lifestyle
because the sellers don't want to be associated with sickly old people who
take heart medicine, and of course they don't want to miss potential
customers who think they're healthy and don't go for checkups.
Tests have apparently shown it to be effective, though 17 years of
research doesn't tell us much since we don't know what that research
involved. The description of side effects is apparently a legal
Grammy Awards (15 seconds)
Music with a driving beat
accompanies lots of flashy pictures of pop stars and audiences and
fireworks. The narrator says "You've seen the Grammies, but
Not. Like. This. Tune in this Sunday for a must see
3-D tribute to Michael Jackson... Pick up your 3-D glasses, only
at Target, and get ready to rock!"
The picture shows glasses with red and blue cellophane, so it's pretty
clear that the 3-D won't be very good - glasses like these can't really
handle color pictures since they're using color to distinguish which
image goes to each eye. While this is a network commercial,
Target helped pay for the plug. The ad gives the impression this
show is going to be non-stop action, unlike most awards shows. Of
course we're likely to see hype like this for any show. I did
couple of minutes of the Grammies, and it wasn't non-stop excitement.
Network Promo for "NCIS" (30 seconds)
are lots of clips from NCIS and NCIS Los Angeles. Obviously they
were selected to be teasers that will make you curious about what will
Network Promo for "Undercover Boss" (20 seconds)
The narrator says, "Undercover
Boss: America's top CEO's are going undercover - in their own
"I'm actually going to be that first time employee," say the
boss. Pictures show him entering the building and doing manual
work. Then we see coworkers expressing amazement when they find
out who they were working with.
The narration goes on: "To
discover the truth... Undercover Boss, premieres after the Super
Bowl. Only CBS."
like the concept for the show, since I've often felt top executives
would do a much better job if they occasionally communicated with the
rank and file of their companies, but it's probably too much to hope
this show will change that much. I wonder if the CEO of CBS will
(There's a break here for the show)
MetLife (30 seconds)
the visuals are in cartoon form. It opens with Snoopy on the
beach building a sand castle in the shape of the word IF. The
narration says, "There are many "ifs" in your family's life. If
your kids can go onward and upward," (we see kites flying) "if you get
sidelined from work." The screen shows an "IF" with bandages
around the "I". A whiteboard is shown with lots of mathematical
expressions involving the word "if."
"Insuring your family's "ifs" can be hard to figure out. So Met
Life removes the guesswork." An eraser wipes away some of the
The voice says "Combining the insurances families need most - term life
and disability in one affordable package." The screen shows two
flags saying "Term life" and "Disability" and then shows an "I" and an
"F" tied together with a ribbon.
"Find out just how affordable term life and disability insurance can be
at metlife.com" and start building your personal safety net.
Visit metlife.com today." There's a cartoon picture of a browser
on the MetLife site, and then a net joining an "I" and an "F" which the
word "if" drops on and bounces off.
Finally a screen says "Guarantees for the if in life"
and "MetLife" and shows Snoopy carrying a sign saying ".COM ."
Fine print below says "Guarantees are subject to product terms,
exclusions, and limitations and the insurer's claims paying ability and
There's a lot of cute cartoon stuff going on, and games played with the
word "if." This doesn't tell you whether the insurance they offer
is worth the money, even if it's as "affordable" as they claim (a claim
that's just a subjective judgement). We also don't know whether
it's better than buying term and disability separately or how it
compares with other companies or how easy it is to collect on the
disability. The fine print (I assume it's necessary for legal
reasons) is a little worrisome.
There's an R&B song playing
and a picture of a cell phone-like device. It rotates so we see a
woodgrain pattern and the word "fender." It's picked up by Eric
Clapton. There's a picture of guitar strings on the screen that
Clapton strums in time with the sound of the song. We seem him
scroll through some icons on the screen and then the screen shows video
of him and Buddy Guy performing together. A call comes in with
the caller identified as "Buddy Guy." As Clapton answers, we see
him standing surrounded by eight (presumably Fender) guitars. He
answers "Buddy", waits, and then says "Just hangin'."
The narrator says "The new
mytouch 3G Fender limited edition. Not just a phone - a
collector's item. Only from T-Mobile. The final screen show
the phone with animated wires connected to earpieces and the words
"mytouch," "100% you," "T-Mobile," and "Stick together."
We can see it's a phone/internet
device promoted by a celebrity and styled like a guitar. I'd be
very surprised if it has much value as a "collector's item." I
suppose your friends might think you're cool if you have one, at least
for a few months until the next hot item comes out. Celebrity and
guitar associations don't provide any clue about how useful it will be.
Kenmore (30 seconds)
We see views of a dog looking at
a front-loading washing machine.
A male narrator with a somewhat whispery voice says, "How do you turn a
washer into a whole new way to custom clean and care for clothes?
By turning the drum five different ways." We see the dog turning
his head. "The five motion Kenmore elite washer."
Now there's a woman waving a sheet-like cloth. The narrator says,
"How do power and quiet coexist? As it turns out, very
peacefully." There's a closeup of something spinning, then we see
the washer window. The camera zooms out to show the woman walking
toward a sofa where she lies down putting her head on her husband's
"Introducing powerful steam cleaning that whispers. The Kenmore
elite washer. That's genius."
I don't know why five motions would make a washer better, or why it
would be hard to keep steam from being noisy. It seems this
washer does things that others don't, but whether that results in
clothes being cleaner isn't clear.
Denny's (15 seconds)
looking young man is sitting at a restaurant table talking
quickly. "What's the deal with all these people rushing to work
drinkin' their mochacinos, cappacinos, chocacinos... Take a look at
A plate is placed in front
of the speaker. A closeup shows three breakfast platters and
coffee in a Denny's mug. A different announcer says, "The Denny's
meat lovers trio."
The original speaker resumes, "It's
one of three new dishes for breakfast lovers being served for a limited
time. I'd take one of these over a 'whatever-cino' any
day." The picture has gone back to his face and he raises a
coffee mug to his mouth.
There's another view of the table
with the different dishes and 3-D lettering behind them saying, "NEW
BREAKFAST LOVER'S TRIO." The tune of "The Battle Hymn of the
Republic" has been playing in the background all along, and at this
point it climaxes with the sound of fireworks.
The ad seems to want to score
points with people who think the fancy coffee crowd is
pretentious. We do learn that they've added some items to their
menu, but they probably removed something they were selling
earlier. I don't see any reason to think that Denny's menu will
be overall more to people's liking now that these things are
offered. Like many restaurants, they change the menu from time to
time. I can only assume the patriotic music is a bit
Ensure (30 seconds)
a cartoon of an Ensure bottle on a refrigerator shelf talking to other
food items, acting and sounding like a drill sergeant.
"OK, listen up! I'm here
to get the lady of the house back on her feet!" We hear a gasp
from the refridgerator items.
"OK, veggies, you're cool.
Mayo, corn dogs, you are SO outta here!" They cry out.
"Cause I'm reworkin' the menu! Keepin' her healthy, and you on
A woman looks in the
refrigerator and takes out the Ensure. We see it being poured
into a glass. There's fine print concerning the ingredients
(nothing scandalous caught my eye).
A womans voice says, "The
complete balanced nutrition of Ensure. With 24 vitamins and
minerals, anti-oxidents, and omega-3's."
The picture reverts to the
refrigerator shelf, and the voice is the sergeant's. "I see you,
cupcake!" The feminine cupcake says "uh-oh" as she's chased
out. "Ensure. Nutrition in charge." The picture now
shows three Ensure bottles.
Cute, but what do we find out
about Ensure? It obviously doesn't rid the 'frige of unhealthy
food. It has some healthy ingredients in it, as do various
vitamin pills. Lately the usefulness of vitamin pills has been
questioned by some doctors and nutritionists. Why should we
expect Ensure to be better? There's nothing here to show that
Ensure actually improves health.
Discover (15 seconds)
We see a Discover card, then lots
of short clips of people walking, pulling suitcases with wheels.
The voice says, "Right now, all
over the country, Discover customers are getting 5% cash back bonuses
on travel. It pays to get more. It pays to Discover.
We see Discover cards being put
down on desks and tabletops, then text saying "5% Cashback Bonus," and
then the words "It pays to DISCOVER."
Discover wants us to know
they have a promotion involving travel. What exactly is eligible
and how this promotion compares to what we would get on other cards is
something we'll need to find out elsewhere. We also would want to
compare fees and interest rates.
Promo for the Grammies show (20 seconds)
hear fast, intense music and see a splattered pattern and the words
"GRAMMY AWARDS." Rapid fire pictures (music related, I think)
flicker by, followed by scrolling pictures of singers, and brief clips
of bands performing.
The narrator says "The Grammy
Awards are coming to CBS. What once in a lifetime opening duet
will everyone be talking about the next day? Find out, live on
the Grammies. Sunday. Only CBS."
More screens show the phrases,
"Find out live," "Grammy Awards Live," and "We're all fans."
This is the second ad for the
Grammies in this half-hour, and like the earlier one, it tries to
generate a sense of excitement well beyond what we could reasonable
expect from the show. No doubt I don't hang out with the right
crowd, since as I write this the awards are over and nobody talked to
me about who was in the once in a lifetime duet.
Acura (30 seconds)
see the internal steel structure of a car. There's the noise of
whirring machinery and a winch device attached to a cable that propels
the frame into a concrete wall. The narration says, "Conventional
automotive frames absorb energy. But this one does more. It
collapses in some areas, while staying rigid in others. To help
redirect energy around the cabin, and away from you."
There's a slow motion picture of
the frame crashing into the wall, with the front part, but not the
passenger cabin, being squashed. Then we go to a picture of a
"The Ace body structure in the
Acura MDX. The most innovative thinking you'll find, you'll find
in an Acura."
It makes sense to design the
frame so the front collapses more easily than the cabin. I'd be a
little surprised if after all these years, the other manufacturers
hadn't thought of it. Does Acura do it better? We can't
tell. Does Acura have the most innovative thinking? This
is so subjective that it's a slogan anybody could use.
Carrabba's (30 seconds)
see food being prepared in a restaurant kitchen, and pictures of sauces
being poured over food while the narrator says, "What's the Carrabba's
difference? Maybe it's the way we hand prepare every meal.
Like our seafood cannelloni - just made pasta stuffed with lobster,
shrimp, and sea scallops." The words "Seafood cannelloni, here
for a limited time," appear on the screen. The voice
continues, "Or maybe it's the incredible value on each plate,
like our new sirloin and spiedino, a center cut sirloin paired with
wood grilled shrimp and scallops in our home made lemon butter
sauce." Text saying "sirloin & spiedino, here for a limited
time," is on the screen while the picture shows shrimp cooking on a
grill. There are closeups of food items, lobster being put on a
plate, and a fork with some food on it.
"Come in tonight and experience the
Carrabba's difference. It's the difference between so so and so
Of course all the food pictures are
carefully photographed to look as tempting as possible.
The commercial starts out with the
assumption that there is a
Carrabba's difference, and goes on to say what might be the cause of that
There's no reason to assume Carrabba's is particularly different from
other restaurants. I'm sure most other restaurants "hand prepare"
every meal. Is there actually an "incredible value on every
plate" that's greater than other restaurants? The ad agency would
like us to think so, but that doesn't mean there is. Noting that
featured items are available "for a limited time" is a standard ploy to
make them sound special and discourage people from postponing their
visit. If you wait a few months there will no doubt be some other
tasty sounding features.
Local news promo (5 seconds)
A quick mention of a story and
"news at 11."
(There's another break here for the actual show)
Pup-Peroni (30 seconds)
young woman comes into her house with groceries, and a dog greets her
with a sign in its mouth saying "I really, really missed you."
A man is reading
a newspaper, scratching a dog next to him on a sofa. The dog has
a sign in its mouth saying, "A little to the left, please."
A woman holds up two dresses.
A dog is sitting on the bed nearby with a sign that says, "The red one,
A man wearing a football shirt is
sitting on a couch eating Pup-Peroni himself. The dog next to him
has a sign saying, "I'm not gonna cry." The man breaks a
Pup-Peroni and gives half to the dog.
The narrator says, "Every tilt of
the head, every tail wag, our pups know how to speak to us, and with a
hearty real beef taste, and mouth watering aroma, only Pup-Peroni lets
them know we're listening. Pup-Peroni. Dogs just know.
Words on the screen say "More real
beef," with fine print saying, "than the leading soft and chewy dog
All we get out of this is
that Pup-Peroni is a dog snack, and it has more real beef than
something, although I'm not sure why we'd care. While they imply
dogs like it, it's pretty obvious they're not actually providing any
evidence to that effect. "Dogs just know" is not something they
L'Oreal (15 seconds)
We see Andie MacDowell's
face. She's saying, "I fight deep set eye wrinkles 24 hours a
A narrator says "L'Oreal's
new revitalift deep set wrinkle eye repair duo. Expert AM plus PM
treatments reduce deep crowsfeet and undereye craving." The
product (apparently two tubes attached end-to-end) is shown with the
lengthy name "New REVITALIFT deep-set wrinkle repair 24HR eye
Then there's a closeup of
Andie's eye and then one of her face. She says, "Trust me, this
The narrator repeats the name
"New deep set wrinkle eye repair duo by L'Oreal" and there's another
picture of the product and it's name.
An actress tells us that this
eye-wrinkle remover really works. She could be acting or she
could think it works even if it doesn't or it might work a little bit
or a lot. Cosmetics makers have been successfully peddling
products to make women's skin look better for centuries with dubious
results. It would
be surprising if this is significantly better than other treatments.
Fiber Choice (15 seconds)
The ad opens with a picture of
vegetables arranged to make a
face. Then the narrator is shown holding a jar of Fiber
Choice. "Most of us don't get enough fiber in our diet. To
get more of the fiber you need every day, try fiber choice, with the
natural fiber found in fruits and vegetables, and 33% more fiber per
serving than Benefiber."
The screen shows a hand holding
some fruits and vegetables. It
closes and opens with two tablets of Fiber Choice, while the screen
splits and the other half shows two teaspoons of Benefiber powder in
front of a glass. The words "33% more" are shown on the Fiber
The picture changes to a pile of
fruits and vegetables with four Fiber
Choice jars on top. Then a bunch of fruits and vegetables
go flying into a jar of Fiber Choice while the narrator says,
"Fiber Choice. The smart choice for the most fiber."
The constant comparison to
fruits and vegetables is misleading, because
we don't just eat those for the fiber, but for nutritional components
as well, which wouldn't be included in the Fiber Choice. Does
taking such a supplement actually improve health? Do we chew
these tablets and how unpleasant are they compared to eating better
food? Is the extra 33% actually necessary (after all, three
spoons of Benefiber instead of two would be 12 1/2% more than two Fiber Choice tablets). What does it cost
KIA (30 seconds)
We see a kid on a bicycle riding
down a country road, passing a sign for the town of "West Point."
The narrator says, "Our story begins with a bicycle back in 1951.
From there we just challenged ourselves to keep coming up with better
ways to help people get around."
The picture changes to the
cyclist riding up to a big KIA plant, and then we see him riding inside
past robot arms, cars on an assembly line, and up to a finished car.
The narration continues, "Fifty
years later, that philosophy has taken us a long way. Introducing
the all new Kia Sorento. Proudly built in our new West Point,
The boy looks into the window of
the car, and then we're shown the interior. Then we see a car
driving on the road by the plant. A final screen says "All-New
2011 Sorrento, Proudly built in the USA, KIA MOTORS, The Power to
Surprise, starting at $19,995." Fine print gives numerous other
costs not included in the price, but states that the actual price is
set by the dealer. Since the dealer normally gives a discount,
the final price might be above or below what's shown.
Clearly most of this ad is
irrelevent. Most of us don't care if the car is made in West
Point, GA, or whether they used to make bicycles. The suggested
retail price might be of interest, but what we need to know about the
quality and features, we're not going to learn here. Saying that
it was "proudly built" is just spin.
Schwab (30 seconds)
This ad uses graphics that start
out as rectangular talk bubbles (like
in comics with a pointer on the bottom to the person speaking).
They're reduced in size and become hundreds of confetti-like colored
dots that then swirl into a picture of a man's face.
The man says, "I thought
investment firms were there to help with my
investments. So, where's that help when I need it?" A text
bubble says, "Talk to a professional anytime, 24/7."
Dots swirl into another
face. He says, "If I could just change
one thing, we'd all get a ton of great advice just for being a
client." Now there's a bubble saying "Complimentary portfolio
review" and another saying "Available to every client."
Another face says, "Shouldn't I
be able to talk about my money without
it costing me a fortune?" It's followed by bubbles saying, "Free
financial workshops," and "Open to everyone."
The next face says, "If I had my
way, investment firms would be falling
all over themselves to help you with your investments."
Finally a narrator says, "At
Schwab, investors rule. Are you ready to rule?"
A bubble says "Investors rule,"
and a last bubble says "Talk to Chuck," and text says "charles SCHWAB."
The ad is calculated to give you
the impression that Schwab is unusual
in offering free help and investment advice. I expect most other
companies do this as well. The ad creates the impression that
other companies are bad, but doesn't actually say so, so it doesn't
have to worry about making false statements.
The fact that they give advice
doesn't mean it is actually good.
The one time I took advice from an investment analyst it turn out to be
bad. Now I try to figure things out for myself. Investment
people usually have genuine knowledge of tax and risk issues, but
nobody can tell you how to "beat the market." Some will encourage
you to frequently change investments since that makes them extra
Local news promo (15 seconds)
The weather man gives a brief
teaser and the news anchor mentions a story. News at 11.
Local news promo (15 seconds)
A no-nonsense male voice
questions how a driver with DUI convictions is
still on the road. He tells us to see the investigative report
six. Hopefully we'll still be outraged and tune in.
General Comments on the Commercials
total time for all these ads was ten minutes on the nose. That
left twenty minutes for the show we tuned in to watch. This
seems to get worse as the years go by.
While there are certainly some
commercials that make
specific claims about their products, it seems like the
main strategy is just to create a positive impression of the product or
perhaps only make the name of the product more familiar. They also are
good at implying their own product is better than alternatives without
making factual claims that could be shown false.
the people who pay for these ads are getting their money's worth, it
means viewers are actually more likely to buy these products because of
the ads. How many of us think that we can be manipulated this easily?
Probably not many. How many of us actually are manipulated this way?
Apparently quite a few. When we make the choice to purchase one brand
instead of another, how often is it because of images created by
advertisements that actually tell us almost nothing factual?
There isn't much to say about
the frequent network and
station promos. Naturally they try to generate interest for their
shows. If they can get more viewers, they can charge more for the
ads in those time slots.
Commercials from 2004