Let’s take a specific look at who advertises what and where. Advertising is everywhere, of course. It’s on buses, in the sky, on buildings, on the floor of the supermarket, wrapped around cars, on license plate frames, on web pages, in emails, in text messages, on “free” products and services, embedded in games and movies, and prominently featured in TV news broadcasts. It’s everywhere – always conditioning us to think about improving our lives or avoiding some feared state of life. It’s way out ahead of us and continually hen-pecking our brains.
We’re not going to address everything in this section, but we’ll start with TV news, because that’s a creature that’s been around for a while and seems stuck in some distinct patterns. And it fits the theme of this course/text.
So – who are the big advertisers on those nightly slots that seem to never end from 5pm to 11:30pm and beyond on the cable networks? A short list of frequent fliers follows:
- Media/entertainment/network promos
- Electronics & mobile phone providers/services
- Travel services and sites
- Insurance (auto, home, life, retirement)
- Pharmaand OTC medicines
- Household, cleaning and hygiene products
- Diet & exercise products
Let’s take a more in depth look at each one of these, looking at the products sold and the motivations behind the advertiser and the potential buyer.
Military: In more naïve times, we wouldn’t think of the military as a seller of something. Today, however, anything and everything that has any kind of budget buys advertising in order to move its agenda forward. Ever since disbanding the selective service draft after Vietnam, the military has been forced to encourage or persuade recruits to fill its ranks. Tanks have to be manned, planes need flying, and they need young, fit bodies to fill those positions, learn valuable skills and take some very daunting risks to say the least. Military advertising campaigns glamorize the upsides, encourage young people to pay for school by joining the military, and promise life-long skills, as long as you live through any wars you get into. Military publicity, PR and advertising are also prominent at popular sporting events.
Politicians: In case you hadn’t noticed, politics and government pay well. Maybe not for your local city councilman but certainly for those who can afford to advertise on network TV. Everything from candidates and causes to referendums and propositions are advertised on TV, and the results can be downright nauseating. With advertising and public figures (like politicians, celebrities and the like) all bets are off. The First Amendment allows slanderous and libelous speech to be hurled at candidates without fear of legal action. So, you’ll see some pretty outrageous advertising around campaign seasons. A lot of that continues into the politician’s term, as well, since campaigning has become a year-round sport for many elected officials, especially in the higher ranks like representatives, senators and presidents. This is a fairly recent development (Franklin Roosevelt popularized the concept early on with his “fireside chats” on radio, but in the past 20 years it’s become much more intense). Political ads typically exploit the public’s worst fears. Sometimes they’ll play to high aspirations, but they’re usually hit-jobs on their opponents and the policies of their opponents (or the other side of the issue, per a ballot proposition). We have a complete section on how the political election cycle feeds the TV news/broadcast/cable station revenue stream in Part 8. In short, politicians, parties, PACs, and campaigns pay out huge money to the networks and media publishers in 2-year and 4-year election cycles.
Orgs/501(c)(3)/nonprofit/causes: A lot of people place perhaps too much trust into “non-profit” organizations. They are, however, some of the most greed-driven agencies known to the public. As you may have heard, many of the leaders at the helm of the most respected, altruistic organizations take home handsome salaries and enjoy incredible perks. (Case in point – Red Cross CEO Marsha Evans in 2005):
Media/entertainment/network promos: The networks promote their own shows, of course. This is the promotion that feeds viewers back into the networks other news segments, specials, and entertainment programming. You’ll notice this in play during really big events like the Super Bowl. Whatever network is airing the football game will hammer on their new and thriving shows throughout the broadcast. This helps them gather up viewers in a snowball fashion. It’s advertising that feeds even more advertising. If you start watching one of the promoted shows, you buy into a whole new realm of messages related to that particular show and its audience. That’s smart advertising.
Networks are also required by law to air a certain number of public service ads (crafted by government agencies) during any given day, month or year. More on this later.
Electronics & mobile phone providers/services: Electronics are cool, and we buy them with frenzied delight every year. The promise of electronics is that they’ll connect us with friends and family, improve our health (think of all the FitBit and Apple Watch style apps, protect us (911 and amber alerts), entertain us, and generally make our lives one heck of a party. The reality is a little different, though. A lot of us resent our electronics. We consider them a ball and chain – a device that’s enslaved us instead of setting us free. Both outlooks are legitimate, and a little of each is true for all of us. Advertisers only give you the promise and the dream, however. They want you to load up on watches, Kindles, Amazon Echos, iPhones, iPads, Surface tablets, stereo equipment, computers, TVs and more.
Automobiles: The single biggest purchase most people ever make – besides a home – will be an automobile. Maybe we’ll be driven by self-driving cars someday. Maybe everyone will use Uber only services that are self-driving. But today, the reality is that you’re probably going to be driving a car.
Drugs: Let’s just call these what they are. A pharmaceutical is just a fancy word for drug but without all the negative associations. Pharma companies are heavily invested in solving health problems via patented drugs. As the saying goes, “for every ill there’s a pill.” They go to great lengths to cover the negative side effects in their advertising. You can hear all the horrific side effects that they’re required to list by law, but they mess with the presentation. This from a 2016 Business Insider article: https://read.bi/2r0vppp
“Some ads use one narrator to talk about the benefits of the drug and a different actor to recite the risks — in a less engaging voice. Or the warning section may be written with more complex sentence structures, to make it harder for viewers to absorb.” Over the counter drugs are not so great for us either, though many do serve their purposes during times of relative discomfort. We don’t need to debate health policy here, but just know that a lot of money is spent advertising prescription and over the counter (OTC) drugs to the public. Hence – a lot of money is made selling those solutions.