Why I’m a bad consumer

Published 2:29 pm Thursday, January 25, 2018

It is easy to understand why television became such a sensation.

Andy Griffith and his erstwhile sidekick could catch a gang of bank robbers, usually from another jurisdiction and generally not in Mayberry, in a 30-minute episode and still go fishing in the allotted time frame.  It was really less time than that, what with commercials, the program intro,  credits and network promo segments arranged at beginning, end and scattered throughout.

  Danny and the family will resolve at least three issues, personal, criminal and social, in a one hour Blue Bloods.  Their increased productivity is understandable considering they have so much more technology and a larger staff to assist them in communications and identification.

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The amount of commercial time is, in itself, an interesting phenomenon.  Over the evolution of television, the number of minutes of commercials has increased to an average of over fourteen minutes in a one hour program and  nine minutes in a half hour.  It varies among programs with some being a minute or so, more or less.  Commercial breaks are between two and three minutes long.

You have to give those advertising folks credit.  They can solve a problem in 30 seconds to a minute and a half.  Imagine, the star’s headache is diagnosed, treated, improved and vacation bags are packed all in the space of a few seconds.  It does take another episode to find the best hotel deal, but who cares?  You, too, can be there in just under two minutes.  However, sometimes you do need to listen very fast while any adverse possibilities are rattled off by a man who is making a living with his fast-speak skill.

The commercial breaks serve two purposes as I see it.  I’m not going to go into the whole DVR speed-up thing if you have a really smart TV and even smarter remote operator.  I’m just basing my observations on the regular start at the top of the hour and end before the next format.

The commercials are trying to get you to buy or do something someone else wants you to. To be fair, it may be a really important message.  Those are called public service announcements and TV stations are required to do a fair amount of that to keep their valuable licenses.  Others are called ads, those hawk any variety of products or services.  The premise behind this is that consumers need information to make good decisions (the ones preferred by the product providers) and those very consumers are sitting right there, so those commercials really are providing a valuable service for them to make those decisions as effortlessly as possible.  If prompted often enough, people will remember when the decision time comes and act appropriately.

Plus, everything looks perfect in the commercial.  You will, too, when you make the decision.

The second purpose of these commercial breaks is likely not preferred by the producers, but really works for me.  If you really plan it out, you can accomplish a multitude of small jobs during the commercial time outs.  You can switch over a load of laundry, put on a pot of coffee, check the temperature of a roast in the oven, search for a missing piece of paper.  The worst that could happen is you miss a few seconds of the next segment and, I’m sure, the program producers take that into consideration with the fade in and out editing technique.  After all, they have done their research into human behavior.

Even weighing the usefulness of commercial time for odd jobs, I am quite impatient with the interruption in my story viewing.  It’s almost embarrassing to admit I have such a demanding  attention span.  At least with a book, the only pause is the one I choose and it can last as long or as short as I need.

For a person who loves to read, which by its nature involves the slow development of plot, theme and so forth, I am satisfied with the quick presentation, unfolding and resolution of the story in a TV show.  I even prefer to wait until a show I really like is on Netflix or Amazon so my viewing is uninterrupted.  If the roast needs tending, I can simply click the pause button for as long as I need.  If someone calls, I can respond for any period of time.

I guess it is more a matter of personal control.  I’m a terrible consumer.  I really don’t care what someone with reams of data and money thinks I should be doing, buying or thinking.  When I am in need of a product, and only then, do I begin research.  There are plenty resources out there to offer me options and reviews.  Of course, this practice sometimes leaves me clueless about the latest trends and behind when timeliness is preferable. 

The Super Bowl is drawing near.  News shows will concentrate many minutes of analysis, speculation and commentary before and after on the production, cost and effectiveness of the commercials.  Super Bowl parties will have two flows of action.  One will be tied to the actual game with dives for the food and drink during the commercial breaks.  These same commercial breaks are so significant that they are built in to the timeout schedule.  We could analyze that for hours.

Apparently, there are enough viewers who are in it for the production of the commercials. This confuses me.  I mistakenly thought the purpose of the commercial break was to allow the folks who are paying massive amounts of money to persuade me in their direction, would actually want me to remember the product being pushed. 

The only Super Bowl  related commercial I can remember is the one where the football player (Mean Joe Greene) and the little kid are exchanging a soft drink in the backlit stadium tunnel.  Nice effect.  But, I rarely drink the stuff. 

Actually, the commercial first appeared several months before the 1980 Super Bowl.  However, the Super Bowl  effect has carved that commercial into memory as a Super Bowl commercial.  There was so much hype connected to the backstory of the timing, the characters and the setting that it is considered iconic.  I remembered it.

Turns out there can be more to a commercial than the product. Sometimes we do long for a quick, simple and well lit resolution to life’s dilemmas.