Argh…such an annoying commercial!


For this post I will take a little detour from instore media to look at music and sound of televised commercials. Particularly, those that are designed to annoy you.

At any given time there are always one or two ad campaigns running that feature deliberately irritating sound, music or voices. At this moment there is one for a car parking services company running here in the Netherlands. It features a woman’s voice that is deliberately made to sound very, very annoying. The question is why?

The reason is that it stands out. It does not really matter whether something is extremely good or extremely bad, as long as it is extreme.

Not too long ago commercials were subject to peak loudness limits. This meant that if you severely compressed the audio of your commercial, you could make it sound much louder than the surrounding material. This resulted in extremely loud commercials during breaks in a much softer movie. You basically had to turn down the volume during ad breaks.

These days we have switched to a new loudness norm called EBU R-128. I will not get into technicalities here but it basically means commercials cannot be any louder than each other or any program material. This makes for a much calmer movie night, but gives ad makers a problem trying to stand out.

So even more than before (and it was already the case in the past) you have to stand out with something special. A high pitched voice or weird accent might just do the trick. Let’s look at the implications.

On the positive side: it does stand out! It tends to really grab your attention and make you notice what is going on. It might also become a subject of discussion. Perhaps you will talk about “that annoying new ad” at work. And maybe the ad will stick a bit better. You might just remember that annoying brand when it matters: in the shop.

Any publicity is good publicity right? Well, no…not really.

As a company you have to fight for the sympathy of potential clients. Unless you have an “offer you can’t refuse” you are going to have to convince the general public that you deserve their purchase rather than the competition. If the very first contact you make with your potential customer is extremely annoying you are going to have a lot of making up to do in a later stage.

Taking this into account it seems more acceptable to air irritating commercials for price fighters than for companies differentiating on quality. Basically what you are saying is “I don’t care what you think of me, just notice me and come get your stuff on the cheap” But was does that say about your company? I personally find it a bit demeaning towards the consumer.

Obviously making a commercial stand out is extremely hard. Ad agencies are in a constant battle for your attention and getting noticed no easy feat. Every now and then though, a campaign is made that is both highly noticeable and has a degree of class to it.

I usually avoid brand names, but since I am handing out compliments here let’s just do it. The new Chanel No5 ad manages to pull it off. They make use of total silence, right before Brad Pitt starts talking. This is such an extreme transition from all the other loud commercials that it immediately stands out. I am not judging the ad in general here, just its attention grabbing power.

Levi’s did the same thing a while back. They had an ad that started all quiet and had the music fading in slowly. Instant attention grabber. Proof that subtlety can be more powerful than vulgarity.

What do you guys think about all this? Should ads be viewer-friendly? Or is it anything goes in the battle for attention?

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1 comment

  1. good article 15 november, 2013 at 20:15 Beantwoorden

    I think ads should definitely be viewer-friendly! I HATE those loud Christmas commercials 3 months before and 2 months after Christmas. When they start, I always close my eyes, disable sound and relax for a while.

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