Bring it to Barb

Barb Rock

Dear Barb,

I watch a lot of TV and I have noticed a trend in the messages that are hidden in most commercials. I realize the purpose is to appeal to what the audience (general public) will identify with or appreciate and will later consume. There is one commercial about two children in the back seat of a car antagonizing each other and the mother becoming annoyed reaches over and hands them both a bag of junk food to fix the problem. The other commercial shows a little girl getting excited and dancing while leaving with her mother for a sports practice and nonchalantly announces to her mother that she has snack duty, disregarding the blatant last-minute notice that she should be reprimanded for, not rewarded for. The best one is the “slinger” commercial with the couple on the couch who discusses the joy of slinging, with obvious sexual suggestions. Is this what we have aspired to? Fixing arguments with food? Disregarding the training of preparation or preplanning to our children or disrespecting the public by using sex in a subliminal way? It is deliberate, insulting and sad. Is this a trend of anything goes now?

Troubled and Dismayed

Dear Troubled,

Social validation is a psychological behavior and commercials try to help you feel socially validated. Basically, people copy others. While most people like to think of themselves as individuals and independent thinkers who aren’t influenced by external forces, we ultimately want to feel like we belong or normal.

One huge change has been that streaming services (Netflix, Hulu, etc.) are displacing broadcast and cable, making it harder for advertisers to reach their audience on TV. This year, global digital advertising is expected to top TV, according to IPG Media brands’ Magna. Once upon a time, TV advertisers only had to worry about magazine and newspaper ads.

Shock advertising (also known as “shockvertising”) uses taboo subjects and societal issues that we typically ignore to intentionally attract widespread attention and trigger a strong reaction. Ads have to really stand out to grab your attention. Advertising tricks don’t work anymore. With 30-second television commercials to capture our undivided attention and sell us a product, it needs to be shocking! Hence, it’s the shock value that works best!

Culture suggests something and ads drive it: If we’re not careful, these ads can be cultural quicksand. Whether the destination is worthwhile or not is beside the point.

Ratings seem to take priority over our moral compass as well as the negative impact it may have on our core and entire perspective.

For better or worse, television is a big part of most people’ lives, and it’s more than a reflection of our society: It’s helping to shape who we are, how we interact, and how we see ourselves.

Almost all of the 16,000 ads the average American sees every day have one thing in common: They’re idealized. Idealization means that whatever’s happening in the ad is ahead of where culture is right now. It’s not what we’ve got, but instead it’s richer, sexier and cooler!

Lastly, your concern should be for our children who view these commercials. Television commercials can be a bad influence on kids because TV is full of commercials that show risky behaviors and affect a child’s actions or discernment early on.

The best news is that most aren’t even watching! A Nielsen study found that around 70 percent of people talked online, on the phone, texting or in person while they were watching TV shows or during commercial breaks.

I am glad you have seen the shift and I am quite certain you are among many television viewers who feel the same way. The typical audience believes what they see, hear and read. But it doesn’t always mean it is true; a factor can be conveniently omitted or concealed. Be wiser and learn to differentiate between the sound of your intuition and morals guiding you and information you are seeing or hearing as being ordinary.

Barb Rock is a mental health counselor and the published author of “Run Your Own Race: Happiness after 50.” Send any questions related to mental health, relationships or life issues to her at

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