P.M. Prescott’s comment on this post reminded me of an issue I’ve wanted to write about on here for a while: TV commercials.  Are they worth it?

I almost always mute commercials when they come on, unless they’re for something I am already interested in.  I can’t think of any time in my life when I’ve decided to buy something just because I saw a commercial for it.  I generally research any major purchases first.

And then there are the commercials for small things, like soft drinks.  Maybe other people are different, but I don’t see those commercials and go “well, I’ve just got to go buy a [X soft drink] right now.”  My soft drink purchase decisions are made purely on the basis of what’s most convenient; I don’t care about brands enough to spend extra time hunting down a particular drink.

Some say that commercials work subliminally.  Well, maybe.  But how effective can the ads be when they produce no noticeable change in my behavior?  Even if it’s subliminal, I would notice that I suddenly had a desire to go out and buy particular things.

Especially interesting to me are political ads. (With which we are about to be deluged, incidentally)  Is anybody really going to vote based on what a TV ad said?  I just assume that all political ads are telling half-truths at best, and so I tune them out automatically.

Given all that, I have to think that companies are overpaying for ads.  The return on it can’t be that much, can it?   I think a company gets more benefit from announcing at the beginning of a program that they are sponsoring the whole thing without commercial interruption than they do from advertising during it.  Because, in general, commercials annoy the viewer who is just trying to watch something.

It would easy to criticize this ad’s central claim, that Obama declared a “war on religion”.  Yes, they can quote a newspaper headline to back that up, but it’s clearly not an actual fact.  Nothing short of a direct quote from Obama saying “I hereby proclaim that a state of war exists between me and religion”  would qualify it as a fact.  It’s just a manner of speaking.

But that’s not what’s interesting about this ad, even though that’s all anyone is saying about it.  No, what’s interesting is what happens next: the narrator says Romney “believes that’s wrong”.  Then we have a clip of Mitt Romney saying something about the Pope.  Then an endorsement from a guy who met the Pope.  And finally the question “when religious freedom is threatened, who do you want to stand with?”

What’s missing here?  Well, the ad never actually says Romney will do anything about this alleged threat to religious freedom.  It doesn’t even say he’ll repeal the health-care law which allegedly does the threatening, even though that  used to be his standard campaign line.  It sort of insinuates that he might, but it makes no actual promises to do so.

Now, I think the whole “war on religion” story is bogus, but then, I’m not Romney’s target audience, who presumably does believe Obama wages war on religion.  What I wonder is, does it not strike that target audience as curious that all Romney is willing to say is that he believes ‘war on religion’ is wrong?  He is not willing to say he would do anything about it.  It is almost like he is a cynical businessman using slogans to rally people to his side without actually committing to doing anything for them.  Surely, that could not be so!