Thursday, March 03, 2005

We'll be back after these messages—eventually

It seems like the local radio stations have been playing a lot of commercials recently. Even more than usual, and the usual amount was plenty. So I made a couple of spot checks at two local stations of interest. (Favorites would be too strong a word, but they're stations I listen to frequently.)

I tuned in to Jack FM and timed the next commercial break. It clocked in at six and a half minutes. Not long after that I tried the same thing at 101 The Fox and got pitched to for a solid six minutes. Those timings seem to be typical, which means each break has to have roughly ten or twelve ads, one right after the other. (Research shows that playing commercials more than one at a time greatly reduces their effectiveness.)

I figure there are two bad things about playing so many commercials. From the advertiser's point of view, it's a bad deal to have your ad squashed together with so may others. Not that I care at all about the advertiser's point of view. From the listener's point of view, that's a lot of time spent—or rather wasted—listening to commercials for the sake of hearing some free music that you don't even get to pick. And if you actually pay attention to the ads, as sponsors hope for in their daily prayers to the god Mammon, then six minutes will seem more like twelve.

All of this takes the mystery out of the fact that commercial radio is struggling for survival, while pay-radio outlets like satellite and cable are booming.

Advertising is an inescapable part of the cultural landscape. Like discarded cigarette butts or empty beer cans, it shows up everywhere you look. One of the more annoying things about visiting Wal-Mart is the way they scatter TVs throughout the store, as if every moment of your life you spend not being exposed to a sales pitch was a moment wasted. People will disagree with me when I say that most advertising is either tainted with dishonesty or enthusiastically immoral, but those disagreements are more philosophical than factual.

I've long been a doubter that Our Corporate Overlords—and by extension the Republican Party—have any genuine interest in education, for little kids or grown-up ones. The reason is simply that educated people are harder to sell stuff to. And if you can't find a way to somehow extract money from people, then what good are they?


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