Why so many American TV ads are crap

Grab of US TV ad for Androgel showing a man

Androgel: Stop using it if your wife starts growing body hair and develops acne!

I have just returned from a holiday in Cuba where we were able to get some American TV channels in our hotel room. We loved watching the US channel TBS, which seems to show never-ending comedy, (its strapline is ‘Very funny’). But I couldn’t help but notice the nature and quality of the TV ads (which were also never-ending). Apart from the fact that every other ad was for pizzas, all-you-can-eat pancakes with maple syrup, or burgers – everything you need to pile on the pounds if you’re a couch potato whose idea of exercise is watching comedy all day – I didn’t really think much of the creativity of the ads.

Now I’m a great admirer of American comedy, indeed TV, and I think that in general it is far superior to ours. They are an extremely creative nation but this creativity doesn’t seem to extend to their TV ads which generally avoid the sophistication – and humour – of ads for UK audiences. The ads seem to patronise their audience or treat them as dumb, whereas I’d say the opposite is true here in the UK. Of course there are some great exceptions (watch out for the imminent Superbowl ads) but generally this was my impression.

But what really fascinated me was how for many products, the otherwise acceptable ads were absolutely destroyed by the mandatory legal disclaimers. UK ads, for instance for a mortgage, will have a voiceover disclaimer at the end about how you can lose your house if you don’t maintain payments etc etc and they’ll be some small print at the bottom of the screen as well. Not so on US TV. The legal disclaimers for some products are so long they sometimes take up to a half of the duration of the ad! Such is their length that one presumes that the directors put the disclaimer in the middle of the ad rather than at the end because otherwise you’d forget what the ad was about or are so put off trialling the product because of the perceived health risks.

Take this ad for Androgel. Androgel is a testosterone cream for men who have, or think they have, low levels of testosterone. The ad starts fine – but halfway through it the disclaimer starts telling you:

– How women and children should not come into contact with the areas of the man’s skin where the cream has applied (kind of difficult, especially if she’s trying to reap the benefits of the man’s newly-enhanced T-levels!)
– To stop using it if you see your child experiencing early puberty!
– To stop use if your wife starts growing body hair and develops acne!
– To not use it if your wife is breastfeeding or pregnant.
– That side effects can include enlarged prostate, prostate cancer, lower sperm count, ankle swelling, enlarged or painful breasts, problems breathing when sleeping and blood clots in the legs.

Apart from that, it’s perfectly safe to use.

Grab showing Cialis US TV ad featuring a man

Cialis: “Helps you be ready any time the moment’s right”.

Oh and check out this one for Intermezzo, a sleep enhancer for those who can’t sleep at night. The disclaimer is just as ridiculous and farcical. As one comment on YouTube says, “Lose 4 hours of sleep or possibly sleep for eternity? Hmmmmm. That’s a tough one. Let me get back to you on that”.

And watch this one for Advair, which helps you “improve your lung function” (do they mean ‘breathe’?). Finally, there’s the Cialis ad I saw, the erectile dysfunction pill which “helps you be ready any time the moment’s right” (deftly put, if I might say so). But it tells you to stop taking it if you experience a range of symptoms including if you find breathing hard (at which point I’d suggest they take some Advair).

OK so we know why these ads have these huge disclaimers – it’s so the firms can’t be sued by someone who pops their clogs as a result of taking the product. Litigation in America is a national sport. But boy does it ruin their TV ads.

As well as administering New River Marketing, Richard Fullerton is also a Business Partner for MCS, an independent marketing services agency. This article has also been published at Marketing:Blogged.

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