When Television Advertising Fails to Consider Its Audience

There are times when I watch television commercials and I am shocked by the lack of strategic programming. One of the best examples of this was seen this holiday season when Lifetime Television’s chose to advertise its upcoming made-for-television movie THE CRAIGSLIST KILLER during the 4-hour mini-series event MARRY ME starring Lucy Liu.

If there is one thing people watching romantic comedies do not want, it is to see commercials for films with the tagline: “While she was planning the perfect day, he was planning the perfect murder.” It is jarring enough to have commercials for such things as catastrophic home or car insurance placed every 10 to 15 minutes during shows. To deliberately think that viewers tuning in to see a romantic comedy would want to watch a commercial about a true horror story is appalling.
What I am looking for when watching a romantic comedy is to be swept away — caught up in the fairy tale and take a break from the stress of real life and the horrors we face each day in the news.
So I ask you: is this what you are looking for? Does it take away from your enjoyment of the TV show you are watching when a network broadcaster/programmer fails to consider how negative a reaction a viewer may have to the advertising selected to air during a particular program? Does it then provoke you to boycott the product or show that they are attempting to advertise?

I know that it does for me. I know that each time I was subjected to a 30-second commercial for THE CRAIGSLIST KILLER that I vowed there was no way I would ever watch it. It was bad enough that such an atrocity actually occurred – but then to glamorize it and extend the 15 minutes of fame of the criminal who committed the crime is absurd. It is offensive that the film was made and even more offensive that Lifetime thought that viewers of the charming film MARRY ME would be the perfect audience to advertise such a program.
This is not the first time that a broadcaster deemed it acceptable to engage in such practice. The theory is that with the maximum number of viewers tuning in for one program that they can be siphoned off to watch another. But I refuse to be manipulated in such a fashion. My time is worth more than that and I am smart enough to know when I am being played.
What I would like to see advertised instead would be along the lines of the Disney film Tangled or even Lifetime’s adorable film LYING TO BE PERFECT. Both are much more compatible with the viewers who tune in to watch a cute romance such as MARRY ME.

It is understandable that perhaps it is impossible to prevent advertisers of insurance and hygiene products from buying ad time during such a primetime event as MARRY ME, but Lifetime Television certainly has the ability to control when it chooses to advertise its upcoming film projects. A little bit of strategic planning and common sense would have ruled out THE CRAIGSLIST KILLER as a match with the MARRY ME audience.
Over the years, we have seen this kind of mis-use of the advertising process time and time again. It is offensive and ludicrous. While a few viewers may be lured into watching such a program — it is like turning to watch a car accident — there will always be the lookie-loos. But for the remainder of the audience, we are shocked, horrified and insulted. How dare someone be so callused and shortsighted to imagine that this is why I was tuning into watch MARRY ME? In fact, I was not. It was the holidays and I was looking for holiday movies to celebrate the season. The last thing I expected was to be assaulted by a constant barrage of commercials glorifying the crime of a killer.
It was tacky and makes me wonder what I am supporting by watching Lifetime Television programs. Do they truly believe that its predominately female-based audience wants to watch movies depicting the brutal murder of a woman? Surely that kind of programming should be left for other networks that do not value female viewership. However, if Lifetime Television feels that its audience could benefit from such a program, it would perhaps be more advantageous to advertise it with a more compatible program so as to not offend the remainder of its viewing audience.
Its decision to bombard me with commercials for THE CRAIGSLIST KILLER during MARRY ME accomplished one thing: I will not only remember the upcoming movie that they advertised, but I will also make a point to avoid it at all costs.
Advertising is a double-edged sword. It can be helpful in gaining name recognition and making viewers aware of what the product can do or when it will be available. But it also can educate viewers on what to avoid buying or avoid watching.
All too frequently there are previews for upcoming films and after watching the 60-second commercial, we feel that we have seen the entire film. The commercial gave too much away or condensed the film in such a way that it felt unappealing. In fact, the whole point of advertising is to attract viewers or buyers of a product. If an advertisement does the opposite, then someone clearly did not do his or her job correctly. With billions of dollars on the line with theatrical films, a badly cut preview can cost a film studio an entire year’s profit. The same can be said of a repulsive commercial for a product. It only guarantees that it is the one thing the viewer will never buy.
I would encourage television programmers to re-think their strategy in marketing films, movies and upcoming programs that do not match up with the audience for which they are advertising. To mis-guess what a viewing audience wants to see can cost untold amount of profits – for scaring away viewers or making them angry enough to avoid a particular program is not how to succeed in business. It is time to remember who your audience is and not antagonize them to such a degree that they turn the channel or boycott your product.

Tiffany Vogt is a contributing writer to TheTVAddict. She has a great love for television and firmly believes that entertainment is a world of wondrous adventures that deserves to be shared and explored – she invites you to join her. Please feel free to contact Tiffany at Tiffany_Vogt_2000@yahoo.com or follow her at on Twitter (@TVWatchtower).

For all the latest TV news and reviews

  • 95% of commercials are lame. They need to focus on the quality before anything else.

  • Melissa

    I don’t think you’ll ever be able to prove that a significant part of the viewing audience was alienated. I know someone who worked on the PR campaign for The Craigslist Killer, and she said that the network was very, very pleased with the viewer numbers.