Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Take it down a notch

I've recently been reminded of the fact that on many TV stations, the volume on commercials is significantly higher than the volume on the TV's actual programming.

I heard once long ago that the reason for this was to make people pay more attention to the commercials that they would otherwise ignore. I have to wonder at this logic. It seems to me that forcing a person to adjust his or her television volume every commercial break would do more to annoy a viewer and cause them to associate the offending brand with a negative experience. In a world where people are already trying to find ways around advertising - and succeeding, much to advertisers' chagrin - that such a forceful and unpleasant tactic would one of the first things to go.

I'm not speaking from a numbers background, of course, and I'm curious if there is any genuine research that proves that making people strain their ears to hear their favorite show or quickly cover their ears when they're blasted by a commercial break actually encourages people to pay more attention to the commercials.

Personally, I subscribe mostly to the "uninvited guest" theory that says advertisers are like random people that show up at some one's door and ask to be let in. If the person at your door screams at you as soon as you open it, you're probably less likely to let them in, much less listen to their pitch. In fact, you might close the door in that person's face outright, with little regard to why they came due to the method of delivery they chose for their message. However, if someone in a moderate and pleasant tone comes along, you're much more likely to hear them out instead of calling the police.

One incredibly effective ad used just the opposite principle of loud commercials, in fact. Amidst the over-pumped volume of typical commercial breaks, this spot was completely silent. People who left their living rooms ran back in to see what was wrong and paid extra attention when it came back on to see if it really was supposed to be silent. In addition to getting all that extra attention, it created incredible buzz as people discussed it with their friends to try to get to the bottom of such an oddity.

Like I said, my assertions aren't based on any numbers - and I'd love to know if there are any out there on this subject - but I think crazy volume on commercial breaks is probably nothing more than a relic of the days when shoving a message down consumers' throats still worked.

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