The strange world of advertising

I normally do not watch commercial TV but for the past six weeks, I have been watching season 3 of The Good Place on NBC rather than waiting for about a year to watch all the episodes commercial-free on Netflix. As expected I have found the commercials to be annoying though I understand the business model that requires TV networks to use them to pay for the programming. I just wish the commercial breaks were not so frequent. Maybe fewer but longer breaks, say one at the beginning of a half-hour episode, one in the middle, and one at the end.

Some of the ads are quite good actually when you see them for the first time but they quickly lose their novelty and become tiresome because sometimes they are repeated within the same half-hour time span. I also notice that later I often remember some features of the ad but rarely remember the product they are selling. I am not sure if this is a failing of the ad or just reflects the fact that I am not the target demographic that consists of younger viewers.

The ads that I really enjoy are the ones for various drugs. They are required by law to list possible side effects and it is hilarious to watch the people in the ads having a good time while the voiceover says that taking the drug could cause them to go blind, lose the functioning of major organs, and raise the risk of heart attacks and strokes.

But the worst part of the ads is how the volume of sound suddenly increases when you switch from the program to the ads. Presumably the advertisers do this to catch your attention but I don’t see the point since you were watching anyway. Are they hoping that you will still hear the ad as you quickly pop over to the kitchen to get a snack or what? I recall reading some time ago that congress or the FCC was thinking of passing regulations prohibiting this practice but clearly nothing has happened.

I also came across this article about a Vietnamese private airline that uses bikini-clad flight attendants in its ads.

Having attractive, scantily-clad women pose next to a product like cars has long been an advertising staple. But in this case, apparently some flights actually have flight attendants wearing bikinis. I am not sure why anyone would choose to make a major purchase like a car or pick an airline because of such ads. When I think about flying somewhere and choosing an airline to do it, pretty much the last thing on my mind is what the attendants are wearing.


  1. jrkrideau says

    Remind me not to book on that airline. Not that as an old, hetro, male I really object to “attractive, scantily-clad women ” but somehow airline safety seems more important.

  2. fentex says

    It’s not the volume that increases, it’s the ‘compression’ of range of sound.

    In some places it is/has been illegal to increase the volume, but that isn’t why they ‘compress’ the sound more -- popular music uses the same tactic (and is one of the reasons it often sucks) to try and be more noticeable on radio.

    If you think of the jagged lines often used to represent sound waves, the volume is the furthest extent they reach outwards -- that is not increased. What is done is the variation is removed by smushing all the frequencies into the same, smaller (compressed) range and moving them all up the volume axis.

    Our brains see this as ‘more’ and ‘louder’ sound though it doesn’t actually increase the decibels output.

    It ruins music and is the mark of a poor, incompetent or corrupt sound engineer, and is utilised by advertisers to get attention, regardless of whether you like it or not.

  3. suttkus says

    They aren’t really trying to convince you to buy the product in any direct sense, they’re just trying to get the brand name in your head. They want their name to be familiar to you, and drawing attention to it a little bit, over and over again, works.

    Most people engage in some kind of brand loyalty. You buy the same brand of detergent this week as you did last week. You don’t really do regular comparisons. Advertisers know this. But every now and then people need to pick up a new brand. Maybe the store is out of your brand this week and you need detergent. Maybe your company has taken a political stance you don’t like, whatever. You need a new brand. Staring at the brightly colored boxes of detergents on the shelf, which one do you pick up? Do you do a scientific comparison? Unlikely, who has time? Research? can you even find such research? Probably not. If you’re most people, you pick up the one that seems most familiar.

    Even if that familiarity came via women in bikinis posing next to the product. And now you have a new brand loyalty.

  4. Mano Singham says

    fentex @#2,

    Thanks for that clarification. That also explains why the sound level does not increase for all the ads. When the first loud ad comes on, I lower the volume but often I notice that a subsequent ad is much softer.

    I had thought that the sound levels were controlled by the TV stations and was not aware that it was the ad makers who had control.

  5. Mano Singham says


    I am ‘brand loyal’ in the sense that I am too damn lazy to do much comparison shopping. Once I find a product that seems to work ok, I tend to use the same one over and over. This is based on my overall philosophy that when it comes to shopping for anything, my goals is to be out of the store as quickly as possible. The fewer decisions, the better.

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