Mr. Picky Pincher and I basked in the glory of cable TV for a whopping three months in the winter of 2016. We used our Roku to hook up Sling TV and life was nifty. We used to be diehard Netflix fans, but we tried out Sling for a few months to watch Food Network. I would say we watched other channels, but we honestly watched Food Network 99 percent of the time.
Anyway, the one downside to Sling is that it plays commercials. As diehard Netflix aficionados, commercials were a new-fangled and bizarre occurrence to us. We weren’t used to them at all.
I remember one night an Olive Garden commercial aired. Olive Garden was desperately trying to rebrand themselves as “light Italian,” which I found hilarious since each meal there contained at least one stick of butter. Mr. Picky Pincher and I poked fun at the horrible acting, “healthy” dishes, and desperate bid to gain customers with promises of endless pasta.
“Ha! Olive Garden is so stupid,” I said, petting Zap the kitten and flinching as he bit my finger.
“I know, that commercial was really bad. Their bread sticks are good, though,” Mr. Picky Pincher said.
“Oooooh, yeah, I LOVE their bread sticks. I like to dunk ‘em in their Italian dressing. I also really like their chicken parmesan,” I said.
“Man, we should go there sometime. Their fried lasagna bites look good,” Mr. Picky Pincher said.
One commercial had us ready and willing to drop our hard-earned cash on heavenly bread sticks and overpriced fried pasta. We chuckled over our gullibility and never did go to Olive Garden.
This incident made me reflect on commercials. Are commercials always bad influences? If so, how can we fight against them?
My take on commercials
In my full-time profession I’m a marketer. I’ve had my hand in planning plenty of commercials and I know how much work goes into them. So I do think commercials have a place in this world. But there are good commercials and bad commercials.
1. Aren’t deceptive.
2. Educate consumers about a product that can improve their life.
While bad commercials:
1. Mislead, lie, or trick.
2. Promote a bad or totally unnecessary product.
We’ve all seen our share of bad commercials and it’s harder to find examples of good commercials. So with our airwaves filled with lies, bad products, and tricks, how do we function as educated consumers? How do we know what to buy? Are we at the mercy of tricky commercials that force us to buy Uggs?
I don’t think commercials are predatory, even if they’re bad commercials (oh hey, Shakeweight). As a consumer it’s our responsibility to call out people’s BS—and I can tell you there is A LOT of BS out there. There are great commercials out there promoting products that fill an actual need. And then you have good marketing run amok with bad products.
Help me, it’s a big bad commercial!
When I studied communications in college there were two schools of thought. One claimed that people were mindless puppets doing the bidding of their commercial overlords, if not on a subliminal level. Our Olive Garden commercial experience could arguably fit into this.
Another school of thought claims that humans have complete autonomy but make their own decisions based on external factors. Us ultimately snapping out of our Olive Garden daze and realizing we were being stupid is a good example of this.
I fall into the second camp. I don’t think commercials are inherently bad. I certainly don’t think they’re shooting our brains with ray guns telling us “BUY MORE PUDDING.” I do think there are too many commercials, though, but that’s the reality of living in a connected world.
At the end of the day it’s about exercising judgment. Reflect on your urges and choices. Companies want you to spend money and will do anything to get it. The responsibility lies in us as consumers to control how we vote with our money. Do you want to pump it into the hands of corporations, or do you want to pay off your student loans?
The choice is, and always has been, yours.
The bottom line
I like looking at shiny things, especially if they’re new. Commercials are neat because I learn all about the fun new stuff that humanity has created. But commercials don’t hold us and our money hostage. We have ultimate freedom to ignore advertising, as tough as it is, to use our money in ethical ways that are true to our path in life.
We want to know: Do you think commercials are inherently bad?