People and Events
Advertising is supposed to attract customers, introduce products, entice and even excite. In Sri Lanka most TV advertisements create yawns and in those like me who have no time to sit and stare at the box and watch only selectively, the rash of advertisements that pock mark favourite programmes disgusts and ruffles to anger.
How it began
At its inception, advertising was merely an announcement. Its antecedents go way back to the days of the supremacy of ancient Egypt where criers were employed to announce ship and cargo arrivals. Which brings to mind the tom-tom beating Kandy Municipal Council announcer who would walk along Peradeniya Road and other streets and roads, making known the fact of an imminent water cut. This was around fifty years ago, when life was that much simpler.
The invention of printing ushered in modern advertising. Printing was invented by the Chinese, remember, long before Gutenberg perfected his printing press in 1450 with a kind of movable type. We who studied English texts learnt that Gutenberg of Mainz, Germany, invented printing. Wrong. The right answer was discovered much later by the likes of me.
Salesmanship began to impinge itself on the publicís notice in the 18th century, soon to be followed, and more aggressively, by the advertising agent, working on commission basis.
Even from the beginning of advertising as we know it now, the largest group of advertisers were food marketers, followed by producers of drugs and cosmetics, soaps, automobiles, tobacco (out now), appliances and oil products.
See how todayís advertising reflects the above statement. Milk is the most advertised, accompanied by the inevitable and rather disgusting milk mustache. You then get sausage and meatballs, but letís admit it, to a lesser degree at present. I used to feel so sorry for the poorer child watching these ads and probably salivating for the unhealthy fare, gorged upon by well-heeled kids.
Then comes Samahan and the very cheeky girl who needs a good smack on her back for cocking a snook at her worried mother, and that utterly disgusting ad with the nose going so bloody. Gawd! Fair and lovelies and shampoos and what have yous to make you better looking are the next lot of ads that are supposed to hold one spell bound and tearing around the very next morning to the nearest pharmacy or posh boutique to buy what it takes to give you a skin ailment. Soaps are in and it must be admitted they are good advertisements and easy on the eye and ear. You feel like buying a Kohomba piece to look like the girl to whom the flute player flutes his tune. Sunlight invariably has a catchy tune that one catches oneself humming.
So this last proves that I, and many like me, are not against advertising and all ads. It is a necessary part of the selling business and we accept this fact. Our point is that it can be done, and should be done, without producing nausea in the viewer.
I know Ven Soma Thera sees red when he sees the lion but that is a very clever ad and one hardly tires of it. It does not overtly advertise beer as the elixir of life, but we are supposed to connect the lion to its correct connotation and so its only a beer drinker that will catch the message. The ad and advertiser cannot be accused of corrupting the young or misleading them.
Did you know that the term Madison Avenue is frequently used to symbolize the advertising business? I did not. And why, pray, the connection? Many large advertising agencies were once located on Madison Avenue in New York City, hence the interchangeable term. Dont accuse me of bringing in kopi kale connections. Justified since the encyclopaedia I looked into under the heading `ECadvertising`ED is old. But its an interesting snippet all the same.
What advertising is supposed to do and what it is accused of doing
Advertising is supposed to announce a product, event, process, whatever. It goes wrong when it creates false values and impels people to buy things they neither need nor want and that in fact may actually be harmful; e.g cigarettes.
But advertisers say they are merely advertising to increase sales, not induce values and dependence. They say they are attempting to create new markets for products that fill a genuine, though latent, need, and that it furthers product improvement through free competition.
Accepted. Advertising is OK and is part and parcel of business and necessary and not an evil. It becomes a disgusting evil at the hands of TV channels. You get this overexposure of advertisements all over the world, but like Sri Lankan terrorism on the one hand and lotus eating on the other, I donít think any other country abuses the right to advertise as our TV stations do.
Codes of Television Ethics
These are extant. Getting through to the commercial division of Rupavahini by telephone, I was told that a television code of ethics has been set down and is being observed. I could believe this since even the most popular Sinhala teledrama, Suriya Daruwo, telecast on Sunday evenings by Rupavahini has its sponsor being mentioned and advertisements screened in manageable, very tolerable measure. You get a short stint of Ceylinco Insurance at the start of the show, in the middle and at the end; all watchable and effective advertising snippets. Thatís all and no other advertisements are thrust on you.
I was told that in a 30 minute programme, the programme content should last 23 minutes and of the 7 minutes left, 2 are for station bands and 4 for commercial purposes, in other words, advertising. Hence the more meat in the dish set down by Rupavahini for its viewers with less grit and disgusting offal. This ratio doubled or halved holds good for one hour and fifteen minute programmes, respectively.
Stupor of stupidity
I could not get Swarnavahini and the other stations on telephone. I am sure you will agree they do not conform to such a code. Otherwise why the heartrending complaints by biddies watching the Bold and the Beautiful and even Judging Amy. Not only the sponsors sore you with their ad nauseum advertising, but extraneous ads are also brought in to assault your sensibilities and injure your senses and tear your emotional equanimity to bits.
I am not exaggerating. Sit and watch an episode of Bold and Beautiful. It starts off with the sponsors, all four of them, with other ads like the Milgro milk ad, mercifully with the cow`EDs bouncing udder out of sight.
Then other ads follow after which a short introductory preview of the film is shown. Its 10 past nine o`EDclock at this juncture. Then come all the ads again. Less than ten minutes of the film is screened after which the advertisements of the four sponsors are shown at length: the otherwise glamorous hi-fi Constance Carroll career girl spitting out water while rinsing her face. Why had she to present that disgusting gesture? DSI follows with Anchor Shape Up and guzzling of MD fruit cordials. No wonder one wants to throttle the girl in the DSI shoes (that ad is soo annoying); scream at the blue clad beauty to stop gambolling on the beach and go home; the family to stop drinking so much MD cordial; and scream the mind and body may do better without so much power malt.
The four sponsors are again announced before a second, less than ten minutes bit of the film is screened, followed by all the ads again. To the four sponsor ads which one is heartily sick of by now having seen then hundreds of times and several times over each evening, others are added `F1 Johnsons, Mobitel, Shanti housing, Anchor, Eden Gardens, Complan, Nokia, NDB Bank. At 9.40 the show ends and all in all you have seen the beauties of B & B for not more than 20 minutes. That is a cheating steal. If the screen went blank in between snippets of the film one would not complain so bitterly.
Watching Amy at the beginning of the series meant watching Amy: judge, daughter, mother and woman. She was on screen most of the time given to the series. Now with its rising popularity, ETV is cashing in and advertising so much that Amy is lost in all the trivia repeated disgustingly.
You can switch off the set and go to sleep, but why invest in a TV if one is not going curl up in front of it and be entertained. The TV is a form of entertainment that must relax one. It now succeeds in annoying and making one angry. That should not be.
There cannot be consumer resistance since a concerted effort to show disapproval is not possible with TV screening and viewing like one can stop buying butter until the price is reduced.
There has to be regulatory measures in place which means there must be a body to do the regulating of the screening of ads. Once at the beginning and once at the end of even the very same ad can be tolerated, but not five times in a forty five minute programme.
Itís different when an ad is done cleverly. One does not tire of the music nor the persons who deliver in no words but mere action the strength of the company that will take care of you for life.
I was most annoyed, (and there was a scaling of annoyance from mild to the desire to blue murder) with the senseless ad of the man and a woman walking/scurrying around very purposefully to no purpose in a derelict building, exhibiting gold jewellery. The man is a masochist `F1 he draws a door down in the woman`EDs face. Maybe its to stop her crazy chasing around with cats screaming and pieces of roof falling. The smile he gives as he leaves her behind the closed door is supposed to send the viewer`EDs heart a thumping with admiration, desire, whatever at this handsome hulk showing his thirty two. My reaction is invariably disgust. Its surprising how a good looking man can disgust so. Mercifully that ad has been replaced by a pretty girl, albeit, inanely showing of exotic jewellery.
This screening of advertisements in such large measure is cruelty to dumb beings. We have no voice nor use our voice to lodge protests at a merciless attack on our sensibilities and assault on senses of eye, ear and mind. Maybe it`EDs a good thing in disguise. Maybe the advertisers are subtly and very cleverly advertising the benefit of switching off the TV and spending time much more profitably `F1 reading a book, meditating, or just sitting down to doing nothing, with no noise, no flickering lights, no advertisements assailing us.
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