Caveat Lector: Not every section described forthwith is utilized by every commercial. Adverts for tv shows usually follow a somewhat different scheme, and punk-ass companies like Coca-Cola sometimes pull shit like showing sentimental imagery for 28 seconds and then briefly alluding to the product at the end. But hey, all generalities are false, right? The following is a heuristic. If you want a less specific and more generally accurate heuristic, that would be the formula: Attention, Interest, Desire, Action (these being the four things the advertiser tries to place in the viewers mind, chronologically). Without any further ado, here is the nothing that comprises the seven minutes of ads you soak up while watching your 30-minute situational comedy.

Prelude: If the product is not displayed within a few seconds of the beginning of the commercial, there is tension. A representative of the target audience is bored, or dealing with a difficult situation, or grappling with another product which is fraught with inconvenience and malfunction. There is probably no music, but if there is, it is tense, waiting for resolution.

Pre-Display: Hopeful or dramatic music may play, while something catches the eye of the previously dismal character(s), and soon he/she/they diverts full attention to gazing upon it ("what on Earth could it be?" we're supposed to wonder).

Display: The product is shown, and it takes up the entire screen in all its glory. It will appear several more times, of course, but the first one is usually the kicker, as Product is shown solving the prior crisis, providing fun or ease of use to the now smiling, Shiny, Happy People. The music is now as upbeat and positive and "cool" as the advertisers can afford.

The Song: If there are words or dialogue, they will follow these rules:

  • Mention the sponsor's name as often as you dare
  • Be economical with words
  • Use very simple language
  • If there's a jingle, make it simple enough that tone-deaf people can hum it and everyone else can sing it
  • Express one idea over and over and over
Brainwashing: The product's names and logo flashes across the screen somewhere between 5 and 87 times.

The Loser: Some individual who's been absent until this point may be shown trying to use a different brand of a similar product. He's excluded from the fun and merriment of the people enjoying the advertised product, and he's clearly unsatisfied with the one he's using. He is a loser, because he picked the wrong brand.

Record screech part: The product becomes unavailable and the music comes to a halt, and everyone is unhappy again. Tension mounts. The image of the absence of the product (empty Pringles can being shaken upside down) is juxtaposed with people whose expressions beg "Oh no! What will we do now?" After a very calculated 2-4 seconds of this, we see that someone else has also wisely purchased the product, and wishes to share and enjoy product, and alacrity resumes.

The End: Blank background, or slightly-out-of-focus version of the previous background, with an image of the product and printed slogan taking up most of the screen, while the announcer reads the slogan, or the singer repeats the crucial part of the song one last time.

If they could, advertisers would just come into your home and beat you over the head with a frying pan for thirty seconds while repeating "Pringles good! Frito's bad!" And of course, you'd have no problem with this, because they'd pay you a few thousand dollars for a transitory dose of pain and less than a minute of your time.


Andara was kind enough to remind me of beer ads: these fall into a slightly different class, because everyone knows that 95% of Americans will purchase or consume beer within the next hour. This reduces the advertiser's job to planting a brand name in the buyer's memory as often as possible, in as memorable a context as possible. So, they show scantily-clad, skinny women and guys doing macho and/or stupid yet humorous things, throw in a few product logos, then cross their fingers and hope for the best.

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