Aug 18, 2008

TV's Last Gasp?

Like most people in my psycho/socioeconomic group, I’ve managed to configure my life so as to avoid TV commercials. I watch most TV either via DVR, OnDemand or iTunes. And, other than the Super Bowl, the live sporting events I watch tend to be full of either local car dealer ads or repeat messages from the same 3 advertisers. Besides which, the commercials, which come during halftime or time-outs, are inevitably good reasons to check my email, go to the kitchen or something else.

So it’s been curious, these past few weeks, to find myself, along with millions of others, watching the Olympics and the full slate of commercials that go along with them. There’s not much avoiding them and so it’s a good thing that many of them are actually quite entertaining. And if I were an advertiser, I’d note that this is a great way to finally get people like me to pay attention to their million dollar productions.

Now that people I know are actually all watching commercials again, it’s been interesting to see which ones they like. It’s the whole “Not Everyone Is An Upscale Urban Thirtysomething White Male Hipster” theory in action. I’ve been loving the Nike "Courage" spot that uses the song I’ve Got Soul, But I’m Not A Soldier both for the music and the message. But when I mentioned this to my 9 year old son and three of his similarly sports-obsessed 9 and 10 year old friends, I was met with quizzical looks. “The song is okay, but I don’t get what it means,” my son finally said, to a chorus of approving nods. Note to Nike: your message is completely missing the next generation of heavy users.

So what do they like? Well, this spot, from T-Mobile, about a brother and sister having a water fight while washing the family car, gets replayed over and over in our house and I’ve heard it mentioned favorably by adult friends as well. And yet clearly, this isn’t the sort of spot that cleans up in award shows. (Or sells many T-Mobile phones, I’d argue, but that’s a whole ‘nother story.)

Overall, however, the Olympic commercials have been well-done and entertaining overall, from advertisers whose products and services people use and interact with in their daily lives.

My gut though tells me that what we’re looking at the future, not a return to the glory of the past. And that future is one where live TV is limited to news and sporting events and where once-every-four-years events like the Olympics are the sole survivors of a once robust TV-centric culture where everyone is watching the same thing at the same time.

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