Friday, June 19, 2009


TV commercials enjoy screaming at us. And we respond by having conniption fits. It's been that way for as long as I can remember.

Back in the early 80s, they had some ruling by the people in charge of cockamamie rules. It said that commercials couldn't be louder than the programs they appeared on. Oh yeah, that'll work.

Of course, that rule was ignored immediately by the advertisers paying big bucks for the programming.

My current theory, if you can identify with it, is that today's commercials are louder and more frequent than ever. I'm sure, unless you're lightning fast with the remote or make frequent trips to the bathroom, that you've noticed it too.

And those shrieking hucksters, the guys who often make $400,000 a year to shout their product messages, aren't helping with stuff like this:


Since I did voice-over work for three years after my copywriter phase, I know that even in soft-sell commercials, a certain amount of energy is required to put your story across in an engaging way.

But with hard-sell announcers, any attempt at charm or being cool or friendly is thrown out and replaced by YOU CAN'T IGNORE US SO DON'T EVEN TRY!

If you contacted a TV station, they would look you straight in the eye and tell you that the commercials are no louder than the programming. And by some warped standard of measurement, they're telling the truth.

But there's a loophole in their claim you could drive an SUV through. It seems that every program has different audio levels – soft, medium, loud and loudest to build or sustain the dramatic or comical effect.

The savvy advertisers, not big on nuance or subtleties, electronically process the audio track and crank it up to its legal limits of loudness.

At times the decibel level of a commercial can be jarring to the nerves. Especially if one of those BLOW-OUT SALES comes on after a tender scene with critically-ill Timmy kissing his mommy and daddy goodnight and both of them praying that he survives the evening.

If you're one of those people who needs an upbeat ending, I read recently that Dolby Laboratories is busy developing technology that would put a lid on commercial abuse, or at least soften it enough to keep us from flinging bric-a-brac at our TV screens.

If you require more than that, I'm at a loss.

P.S. In an effort to minimize hypocrisy and bring some truth to advertising, I must make one confession. A dozen years ago, when I was still writing ads, I wouldn't have cared if my commercials were loud enough to shatter your favorite wine glasses.



Bernie Most said...

You are absolutely correct
Mr. Thistle. Even when I try to mute a loud commercial, closed-captioning is in ALL CAPS!

Howard Portnoy said...

Milt, you were a voice ovary? I didn't know that.

As for commercials, I am told they make them loud so you can hear them from the kitchen (where you repair to get a beverage/make a sandwich during the commercial).

Anonymous said...

You speak the truth, Mr. T.

I think they make them even louder late at night. I have often peacefully drifted off to slumber whilst watching a less then completely riveting show, only be "falling off the couch" jarred awake by a blaring commercial for a sale at the local car dealership!

I have the same suspicion about level of infomercials!

Smokachu said...

You should have cared sir. It's the obnoxiously loud advertising that causes people to tune away from commercials. I, for one, have a DVR and typically I wouldn't even bother fast forwarding through commercials. Yet any time I'm watching the Sci Fi Network for any reason (I refuse to call it SyFy) I'm quite cautious to fast forward through each and every commercial as they tend to be incredibly loud. Plus there's an all important truism. One who has intentionally listened to something, especially if they went to great lengths to do so, will likely understand and retain what was told to them with much more clarity than if he's shouted at unwillingly.

michael at SRS Labs said...

SRS Labs has a solution for loud commercials that even the advertisers can't tune their way around. Its called SRS TruVolume and its built in to a ton of new flat screen tvs these days. Learn more at, there you can also enter to win a new Samsung TV featuring this great new volume leveling solution