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Congress may soften loud commercials

Amy Scott Aug 10, 2009

Congress may soften loud commercials

Amy Scott Aug 10, 2009


Steve Chiotakis: If you’re one of those people who hits the mute button the second some obnoxious commercial comes on television, you’ll be happy to know that Congress has gotten involved. And ultra-loud advertising could be on its way out. Here’s Marketplace’s Amy Scott.

ARBY’S COMMERCIAL: Everybody’s heading to Arby’s for the official $5 combo of summer…

AMY SCOTT: Ahh! Where’s the remote control?! That’s better. Marketing professor Sam Craig at NYU says advertisers spend in the hundreds of thousands of dollars for a 30-second spot.

SAM CRAIG: So if they can crank up the volume a little bit, to get over the clutter and the din that’s in the household, they’re likely to do it.

They can’t do it too much. Under the current rules, a commercial can’t be louder than the loudest part of the program you’re watching. But if your Charlie’s Angels re-rerun happens to cut away during a tender love scene…

PROACTIV COMMERCIAL: Order in the next three minutes…

That Proactiv ad can sound especially jarring! Advertisers also use an audio trick called compression to make the sound jump out of your TV set. A bill under consideration in the House would force them to rein it in. David Donavan is president of the Association for Maximum Service Television. He says the industry is working on its own solution.

DAVID DONOVAN: Our bottom economic line essentially is advertising and if people start saying I’m annoyed and they’re turning this off, we know we have to fix this.

Donovan says the fix involves using digital TV technology to better match the volume of commercials to the programming. He says broadcasters will vote on a new standard this fall. I wanted to know how that squared with one of the legends of the loud commercial.

CRAZY EDDIE commercial: Beat the heat! Beat the heat with a fan or air conditioner from Crazy Eddie…

I tracked down Jerry Carroll. He was pitchman for the New York area electronics chain Crazy Eddie in the 1970s and 80s. Carroll says Crazy Eddie believed in volume — in both senses of the word.

JERRY CARROLL: You would have a night between midnight and six where he was on every station — two, three times an hour. I don’t blame people. I’d get sick of me too!

Carroll says there’s a reason he kept shouting all those years.

CARROLL: The lines into the store were always long. And it really did work.

Even with new rules, pitchmen like Carroll will likely keep shouting. They’ll just have to do it more quietly. Carroll says if an ad annoys you, do what he does: Change the channel.

In New York, I’m Amy Scott for Marketplace.

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