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The FCC quiets TV down

Gregory Warner Dec 13, 2011

Kai Ryssdal: All right, Marketplace listeners. Time to put your hands together and make some noise if you love loud television ads.

Yeah that’s what I thought. Know what? Congress isn’t so wild about them either. Last year it passed something called The Commercial Advertising Loudness Mitigation Act. The CALM Act — get it? It says television commercials can be no louder than the shows they interrupt. The FCC released the details this morning. Cable companies and broadcasters have a year to comply. Which means whatexactly for the advertising industry?

Marketplace’s Gregory Warner investigates.

Gregory Warner: Picture yourself in bed, watching TV, getting kind of sleepy — and then a commercial comes on. With a bang.

TV commercial: It cleans it brightens it eliminates odors. Don’t just get it clean, get it Oxyclean.

At that moment inside your brain, the relative loudness of the ad triggers a response that evolved 400 million years ago. It was intended to keep us from being eaten by amphibious predators. It’s called: fight or flight.

Daniel Levitin: You might have sweaty palms, your heart rate and respiration has increased, you’ve got all this excess energy caused by the startle reflex; of course you’re annoyed!

Daniel Levitin studies the cognitive neuroscience of sound at McGill University. He’s the author of “This Is Your Brain on Music.” So why do advertisers feel the need to torture us in this way?

Levitin: See that’s a very interesting question: Why would advertisers want to scare you? It turns out that it’s an attention-getting device.

And it’s not just that. Carl Howe analyzes media for the Yankee group in Boston. He says an ad that alarms — even an ad that annoys — can be very memorable, very sticky.

Carol Howe: The real trouble with loud ads is that it’s an ever-escalating war.

Of each ad outshouting the last. The new FCC ruling requires broadcast and cable channels to play TV ads at the same volume as the TV shows. Howe says that could force the loudmouths to turn up the creativity.

Howe: If they know they’re going to have to compete on the content of their message rather than the volume, they’ll work to create a more effective message.

Effective, but not necessarily less annoying.

Howe: There are more ways to be obnoxious than just shouting at people, absolutely.

So as calm as we can: In Philadelphia, I’m Gregory Warner for Marketplace.

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