Fear of TV

[image: Corie Howell]

With major broadcasters – and Five – slashing staff and channel bigwigs pooing their breeks over the state of TV ad revenues, there’s a fair amount of soul-searching going on in the ad world these days.

There are any number of folk out there willing to tell you why TV ad revenues are down, but not many have hit on the fact that watching commercial breaks these days requires a steel stomach and nerves of granite. Amongst the usual barely-distinguishable spots for cars, shampoo, mobile phone networks and home furnishings lie terrifying public service announcements whose aim, you’d think, is to terrify you into flipping the channel.

The latest one that has me sprint-reaching for the remote is the Act F.A.S.T clip warning of the symptoms of a stroke. I’ll post it here but I imagine you’re as keen to avoid it as I am, so no offence taken if you skip past it:

I know it’s just a lady acting, but God it upsets me.

In that sense, the ad has done its job. It got my attention, preyed on my mind, darn well gave me a nightmare or two, and has led to me writing about it. Someone’s getting a bonus because of all that, you know. Someone’s getting a bonus for giving me nightmares.

Similarly, I imagine there were high-fives all round the agency when this THINK! LOL-fest hit the nation’s TV screens:

Ads like this raise awareness and educate people – but when you’ve seen them once, and had that shock of the first exposure, you’ll do whatever you can to avoid them. Which, weirdly, makes them even more effective. So many adverts just breeze past me – I might get their soundtrack stuck in my head, or be able to quote a line here and there, but much of the time I wouldn’t be able to tell you the brand or product involved.

That is definitely not the case when I see this guy’s face appear on the screen:

It’s all quite amusing and a bit Phil Cool until he does the woman’s voice, and suddenly it’s like you’re watching a seance, which is not what you’re after when you’re just chilling out stuffing your face with Revels and watching Gossip Girl Entourage.

That’s a piece of cake compared to some of the previous THINK! clips, though. Like this little delight:

I’m not sure if there are guidelines to prevent too many public information ads airing together in the same commercial break, but I do wonder if one day soon we’ll see no more lovely hair-related phone calls between Davina McCall and her mum and instead be bombarded by stroke alerts, anti drink-driving gore and arteries full of gunk:

Some of these beauties are shown before the watershed, and some aren’t. I have to admit part of me thinks that if I’m going to be harried into dreaming about stroke-suffering car-crash victims, so should the children. You can’t protect them forever, so you might as well expose them from the off. Although you do wonder what goremmercials will do to young minds given that I can still remember innocent little notices like the Charlie Says clips:

Interestingly, I can’t think of any paedo-related TV adverts that fall into today’s disturbing oevre. Given the panic that tabloids manage to whip up regarding stranger danger, I am slightly surprised – and yet heartened – that a commercial hasn’t appeared illustrating in graphic detail the consequences of accepting rides with strange men (Cabwise apart).

But there are always charities willing to feast on violent child-related imagery in order to “raise awareness”. Barnados hit the grey-hued jackpot with one of the clips from their recent Break The Cycle campaign, which assaults you with… well, assault:

Cheers. Now back to Ten Years Younger.

The first time I witnessed that symphony of child abuse I felt like I needed a stiff drink. The problem with drinking at home these days is that while it might save you a few quid, if you happen to do it while watching the box sooner or later you’re going to be confronted with this kind of thing:

And if you prefer a cheeky spliff, don’t think you’re going to get off easy:

If you’re more the type who likes to go out on the pull with your mates, there are still plenty of opportunities for you to be mugged by this party-pooper:

As yet there are no horrific clips of hands being slashed apart by paper cuts as a way of warning you off a night in with a good book, but give it time.

Daytime TV is more about emotionally manipulating you into giving away your money – because if you’re at home watching Loose Women during the day you must have notes to chuck around, right? Why don’t you make yourself useful and save a child?

The money shot in this NSPCC clip is at the end, when an upset toddler has his crying face depicted in heart-tugging slow motion. This child is too young to act, so make of that what you will:

Animal charity ads are possibly even better at targetting the sick, unemployed and/or criminally hungover. Those clips of kittens mewling in cardboard boxes and puppies shivering in alleys? They are just something else. If you’ve never felt your tear ducts itching at one of those babies you probably eat kittens for dinner already.

Here, check out this tale of a pregnant cat in a scrapyard:

Compare that with Dogs Trust‘s adverts, which go easy on the grim – perhaps their bright yellow branding convinced them to go for a more life-affirming angle? Whatever, seeing doggies bounding after frisbees and stuff doesn’t leave you feeling like you’ve just viewed a micro version of Requiem For A Dream:

What makes one organization batter you with images suggesting a cat is about to be crushed by a car, and another just take some footage of dogs playing fetch? Which is more effective? Can we find some research that proves the latter makes people part with their cash more readily? Please?

I went to the cinema with a friend who doesn’t have a TV a few months back. Before the trailers there were one or two fairly mild public service spots – that Mike Figgis Together For London film was one – which had, after years of no TV, a remarkable effect on my friend. He wasn’t used to ads giving him orders – don’t do this, buy that – and was literally offended by the bombardment. I barely even noticed they were there.

I suppose that’s why advertisers are resorting to ever more graphic measures to make us take care of ourselves and each other. We’ve become desensitized to the extent that only shock tactics – often more bracing than any of the content seen during actual TV shows – are able to grab our attention.

But it’s probably worth them realising that there are a lot of people out there all too ready to flip the channel the moment an ad break begins. And those are the people who still find themselves exposed to TV ads; there’s plenty of technology out there ready to help us avoid them altogether, and goremmercials make me a lot more likely to seek it out.