Dennis D. McDonald ( consults from Alexandria Virginia. His services include writing & research, proposal development, and project management.

MAFA: Make Advertising Fun Again

MAFA: Make Advertising Fun Again

By Dennis D. McDonald

I was watching TV in the kitchen the other day while making dinner. Usually I watch MSNBC (via cable) or YouTube videos (via Roku) while chopping vegetables.

This time a French produced history series on World War II being shown on the Smithsonian Channel caught my eye. The quality of the production and narration (by Martin Sheen) was much higher than many comparable U.S. productions. For one thing, the attention paid to Russian involvement in World War II (their “Great Patriotic War”) was more complete than what we usually see here in the U.S. For example, we get to see a victorious Georgy Zhukov, Red Army general, walk through the rubble of the Reichstag in Berlin. Not something you see every day.

But that’s not the only thing that attracted my attention. It was the Smithsonian Channel commercials.

On MSNBC in the afternoon, for example, we’re constantly bludgeoned with ads for health products, investment services, automobiles that specialize in solo driving on deserted country roads, leisurely boat cruises, dietary supplements, and incessant insurance promos. Older folks (for example, boomers like me) are often the focus of these MSNBC commercials. The older folks as shown tend to be slender and healthy looking. The men, even when graying, often have full heads of hair (don’t I wish!).

On the Smithsonian Channel, on the other hand, millennials—often white—are king. Women and men are slender. Homes are spotless and well lit. Men have a regulation length beards or stubble. Ties are verboten.  And just about every product or service offered is accessed, available, or sold via a prominently displayed smartphone. 

Regarding smartphones, it is amazing how almost every Smithsonian Channel commercial features a smiling millennial holding up a phone as if it were some sort of unique badge of honor. What’s the intended message? Don’t look for us in any brick-and-mortar stores? See how cool we are—we have our own app?

I don’t get it. Doesn’t everyone already have a smartphone? Isn’t that just the current price of doing business no matter how old your target market is? It is 2019, after all. Even Amazon products can now be returned to physical Kohl’s stores.

So, different channels skew their programming and commercials to different target audiences based on demographics. What else is new?

Since I don’t watch a lot of network TV (if any) I can’t remember the last time I saw a soap, shampoo, or laundry detergent commercial. That’s fine by me. But as a baby boomer with some disposable income, when I do turn on the TV and agree to submit myself to commercial messages I wouldn’t mind seeing something fun or unusual advertised now and then.  Or is “fun or unusual” now just the province of targeted email and Instagram ads with annoying audio?

Years ago I remember stumbling across the old Spike TV network. While having little interest in the actual programming, I did see a lot of theoretically male-focused advertising with the stereotypical themes of beer drinking, fast cars, and bikini-clad women. As depressingly mainstream as that was, at least Spike TV made some attempt at being fun.

Spike TV, of course, is gone. But I wouldn’t mind seeing some fun advertising on MSNBC. Or are they satisfied with pushing the same boring insurance ads day after day after day?

Copyright © 2019 by Dennis D. McDonald

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