Tuesday, November 1, 2016


Using the “payoff” for the title – a ploy precariously uncertain to succeed.  Try to forget I did that.  Thank you.

I am glad I did not decide to go into advertising.

The opportunity was available.  During my twenties, I was commissioned to write and perform a series of radio commercials, inaugurating a Toronto delicatessen’s foray into frozen dinners selling in supermarkets.  Longtime Canadian radio listeners may smilingly recall:

“Hi, I’m ‘Salisbury Steak.’  I come with mushrooms but they don’t talk.”   

That was Yours Truly.  (Imitating Mel Brooks, so badly you could easily imagine I wasn’t.) 

Shortly after that assignment, the agency that had hired me – a small, two-man operation – offered me a full-time position writing commercials.  I respectfully turned them down, explaining that I preferred to remain in show business, an interesting perspective, as I was not anywhere near show business at the time.

In the sixties, it was preferable to have an unreachable fantasy than full-time employment.  (See:  A Thousand Clowns (1965.)  I could not imagine myself wearing a suit every day – the only one I then owned being my itchy, woolen Bar Mitzvah suit – visiting the client’s house for an obligatory dinner, pretending the “Salisbury Steak with Mushrooms” they served was delicious. 

I have never regretted that decision, not only because things worked out for me in the arena I had imagined I was engaged in but wasn’t.  But because, when you come down to it, I do not essentially understand the business of advertising.

For example:

How do ad agencies explain to sponsors that they are required to pay more for airing television commercials although today’s viewing audience is only a fraction of the one sponsors had previously less for without bursting out laughing before finishing their sales pitch?

“No, really… (LAUGHING HYSTERICALLY)… it’s worth it.  (REGAINING CONTROL)  Sorry.  I just thought of something hilarious my three year-old daughter said at breakfast.”


I have bored you to death – or at least asking for death – with complaints about prescription medicines whose names – selected by advertisers – do not mean anything.


Or is that the second baseman for the Astros?

Wait, that’s Altuve – an understandable confusion between an American League batting champion and a medicine treating a persistent tickle in your ear, although I am only guessing, since the medicine’s “Brand Name” keeps bafflingly secret what it alleviates.

Finally – and this one’s a perennial, though the infraction is more noticeable of late


How many times can you repeat the same commercial before the viewing audience throws something heavy and destructive at their televisions?  As in,

“You drove your car for four years.  You named it… ‘Brad’…”

Okay.  First, kudos for choosing the name “Brad.”  “You named it ‘Ron’”?   Not as evocative.  “You named it ‘Brenda’”? – Let’s not get sidetracked by “gender stuff.” 

“You named it ‘Brad’.”  Let me respectfully tip my cap.  


There is a continuum, it seems to me, an inevitable sequence of responses, beginning with the genuinely approving,

“She named it ‘Brad’ – That’s so sweet.”

It then proceeds to “There it is again”, applied appreciatively for its confessional cleverness.  Shortly thereafter, however, comes the “turn”, irritation due to relentless repetition, culminating when they run the ad twice during the same episode, after which you never want to see it again, a tasty confection morphed into Guantanamo-style torture.  

That can’t be good for the product, can it? – you come to despise its commercial? 

The “Ad Folks” behave like it’s no problem.  “More is better”, the pounding reiterations seem to insist.

Maybe.  Up to a point.

I mean, I enjoy Buster Posey washing his socks in the clubhouse “whirlpool” while a Giants teammate relaxes in it. 

The first three times! 

But they keep showing it!  Moving me progressively from “chuckling” to “indifferent” to “Again?!?

Imagine if I repeated the same joke in a script three times.

“I think ‘Little Earlo’ needs a vacation.”

That’s essentially what they’re doing, running the same commercial again and again, expecting… I don’t know, “Audience Amnesia”?

(FIRST VIEWING) “That’s funny.”

(SECOND VIEWING) “That’s funny.”

(FIFTIETH VIEWING) That’s funny.

I’m just asking.  How many times can you repeat a commercial before it becomes achingly counter-productive?


(Hopefully, you have forgotten the title.)

All right.  I am guessing the number.  But advertising – at least to its participants – is a virtual science.  I am confident there’s a number.

Or am I giving them way too much credit?

Law & Order “Log Line”:

“McCoy puts an ad agency on trial, arguing the excessive repetition of the “They named it Brad” commercial compelled the assailant to run amok.”

I’m on that jury?

I am extremely tempted to vote “Guilty.”


Wendy M. Grossman said...

...and then they wonder why people download TV shows from unauthorized sources that have helpfully removed the commercials...


JED said...

There is a commercial for a pill that helps improve short term memory (I won't name it and give them a plug here) and it contains an ingredient,"originally found in jellyfish!" the narrator excitedly announces. How does something from an animal with no brain make you feel good about using that product to help your brain? I guess that's where the repetition comes in. They show that commercial more often than political ads here. It drives me crazy. But perhaps, if you suffer from that affliction, after hearing about the stupid jellyfish stuff in the pill thirty-seven plus times, maybe it does start to make you feel that they are on to something. On the other hand, if your problem is short term memory loss, you've probably forgotten about it by the next time the ad shows.

I can't imagine seeing an advertisement I like thirty-seven times let alone the annoying ones.