Familiarity Fatigue

I have lost track of how many times I have watched Johnny Depp pointlessly drive into the desert, get a shovel out of the boot, and bury a piece of jewellery while his voice-over emotes in a language only understood by perfume advertisement copywriters. That ad has been running for years now and regretfully shows no signs of stopping. And yet despite being forced to watch it so many times, I have no recollection of which particular smell in a bottle he was trying to make me buy, and even if I did, I wouldn’t buy it because of the pretentiousness of the ad. Also, it is bound to be expensive to pay for all that advertising. So why do advertisers think it is effective to throw good money after bad and keep showing the same advert over and over again? Has anyone ever seen an advert for the 451st time and suddenly thought ‘hang on, I see it now – that piece of oak furniture is just what we need after all. Deidre, start the car’.

Some programmes are particularly prone to advert repetition. I always watch the Tour de France highlights on ITV4 every year, and you can guarantee that they will show you the same medley of adverts in almost every break, day after day, for three weeks. Do the advertisers think their audience are so dim that a form of Chinese water torture is the only way to hammer home the message? Has it not occurred to them that by forcing the poor viewer to repeatedly watch two sets of dishes being washed, one with a ‘leading competitor’ and one with new Gnomey Fluid, that it will not be long before we’ll be sick of the sight of their product? It is pretty obvious that the same audience will be tuning in every day.

The TV companies themselves are not much better. The BBC inserts trails for upcoming programmes with gay abandon, seemingly unable to comprehend that most people do not just watch once a week. So in the many weeks before RuPaul’s Drag Race, for example, the same trailer was played over and over and over again, at every available opportunity. Look at us, being so diverse and inclusive! Shout it from the rooftops! Then, they finally broadcast it. Hurray! No more trailers! Wrong. Now the programme is available on catchup, so what a great idea to resume playing the same trailer over and over and over again, but add a bit about catchup on at the end. It might be a great programme, but I refused to watch it on principle.

I do wonder whether the executives involved, when determining how to schedule adverts and trails whether on TV, radio or online (Grammarly on YouTube, anyone?) consider not just the ‘packages’, audience reach, demographics etc, but also put themselves in the viewers  and listeners’ shoes now and again and consider ‘saturation’ and ‘familiarity fatigue’. Me, I usually consider myself saturated after one viewing, especially if it is a perfume commercial.

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