watching commercials

Published on April 25, 2020

Do you watch the commercials on the television?

Before the lockdown began, I would turn my head as soon as the commercials began on any television show. I think many people share my perspective here: commercials used to be a time-waster that deserved to be seen only in the background.

But now, my perspective has changed. I do not watch much television, but when I do I find myself watching the commercials more often.

There are two reasons why I believe I have been more focused on commercials recently. The first is that I have enjoyed identifying the anachronisms between the commercials on television and the current times in which we live.

I enjoy saying to myself “well, this could not have been recorded during the pandemic.” I like thinking about how companies have pivoted their commercials to be more friendly to our current circumstances. Many companies, for example, have phased out old commercials in favor of new ones, which has created a sort of game for me: identify which commercials have changed, then guess why.

The second reason why I feel like I have been more focused on commercials is that they have acted as a binding factor in these times. While television may not be as popular as it once was, there is a general sense that people still watch a lot of television, and so commercials can act as a conduit for companies to speak to the nation.

The main supermarkets here in the United Kingdom -- Aldi, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons, Lidl, and a few others -- have aired ad spots where they talk about how they are still able to feed the nation. Some even offer advice on how to shop safely, and how to shop in accordance with the guidelines set forth by the government.

To me, I find that after seeing these commercials, I am more attached to each company. Knowing that they have gone to the lengths of creating a commercial with public service advice makes me feel more comfortable doing business with them. It makes me feel as if they are really doing everything they can to help us.

Commercials have become less about just selling you stuff -- the pinnacle of consumerism -- and more about sharing information.

Tesco, for example, shares “food love stories” in their commercials, which portray families who are using food to connect with each other, and relate to the members of their family with whom they cannot presently meet. I vaguely remember Tesco’s ad spots for these stories before the pandemic started, but now, I feel attached to each individual commercial.

Some companies will have adapted solely because someone in an advertising department mentioned “we’re going to get hit big if we don’t respond.” Some companies will have changed their adverts in response to competition. But most -- and I don’t think I am being too optimistic here -- have changed their adverts because they want to keep the people safe.

This shows a side of companies that we may not have seen before. In good times, there was never any need for companies to air public service announcements, but after seeing them do it during these circumstances, I feel more confident in the ethics of many businesses.

Do I think this will influence the people with whom I shop in the future? I believe so. I think that I will continue to patronize Sainsbury’s and Morrisons not only because they are sources of food -- and right now I would go to any store to get food, like most of us -- but because they have shown themselves to be upstanding corporate citizens.

Similarly, the companies who quickly changed their commercial spots have earned more credence in my mind. I cannot remember all their names individually, but I know that, when I see another commercial by a certain company, my mind may think “well, this company was very responsive to this crisis.”

Money is at stake. Companies may have spent tens -- if not hundreds -- of thousands of pounds on previous ad spots, and now most of them are adapting to the times.

This is what makes the change toward coronavirus-conscious ads so impressive: good companies, at their core, care more about showing strength than profits. And to tell if a company is “good,” -- in the sense that they are socially responsible -- we can look more to their commercial practices as a signal.

I do not watch much television, I must add. In fact, my only exposure to television in the day is when I come downstairs to spend time with my family, as they enjoy watching the television in the evenings. For the most part, I am reading articles on my phone, or just chatting with them.

But, when an advert comes on, I often find my attention hooked. Why? Because, in amongst all of this uncertainty, ads have become a source of comfort (and even humor, in the case of the commercials that still use pre-coronavirus practices).

This may have been an obvious realization, but that’s what life is about. Not every day is spectacular, and even these thoughts deserve to be documented.

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