Advertising breaks

Posted on by Guy Cookson

A still from Surfer, an advertising campaign launched in 1999 by Diageo to promote Guinness in the United Kingdom

At a recent event someone asked me to name my current favourite TV advert. A few years ago this question would have been easy to answer. Something by Guinness, maybe.

But I realised I could not immediately think of one. I could not even bring to mind a television ad I hated.

Of course there was the awful Pepsi commercial with Kendall Jenner, which was pulled after attracting justified criticism for its tone deaf appropriation of political protests.

But I saw that on YouTube after reading about it on Twitter.

That is how I seem to encounter TV ads these days – when they are featured on an industry website for winning an award, or when they show up in the news after offending people.

Seeing a TV ad in its natural habitat – an actual commercial break – does not seem to happen so much anymore.

In part this is because my viewing habits – along with those of millions of others – have drastically changed. Rather than checking the TV schedules and watching programmes by appointment I now stream shows on Netflix and BBC iPlayer.

And on the occasions that I do watch broadcast TV, and an ad break comes on, the small screen in my pocket is way more likely to capture my attention than the large one in the corner of the room. I no longer notice the ads.

It was not always like this. There was a time when TV ads were memes. People quoted them in everyday conversation – often ironically. They worked as a cultural currency because everybody saw the same ads.

My two sons, aged 9 and 6, rarely watch anything on live TV either, preferring instead to use their screen allowance to explore the on-demand selection. And so they hardly ever see traditional commercial breaks.

Not that it matters of course because, as it turns out, the TV shows most requested by my kids are co-produced by the Lego Group and feature Lego toys as the lead characters.

Brands like Lego have realised ad breaks are no longer enough. They know to cut through the noise they have to earn our attention by creating or sponsoring the main event.


This post was first published by the Lancaster Guardian, where I write a weekly column.

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