About nine years ago, I wrote an OpEdge article that in the idealized world of television commercials people care about their pets as much as they do about their children. At the time it seemed as if every other commercial featured dogs or cats, and in most, the animal was a best friend, family member, or even life guide. The article went on to analyze several commercials featuring pets.
Since then, I have never lost the feeling that pets dominate televisions commercials, but the post-pandemic increase in the popularity of pets makes me wonder if instead of being a major creative motif in communicating about products that pets have become a given, like furniture, family, and cars, in an idealized commercial world to which the viewers can only find entry through the purchase of the advertised goods and services. Recently I have noticed a new trend in television commercials related to the creation of an ideal world dominated by the unrequited longing for consumption and the warm emotional release of making a purchase: dancing.
Damn, doesn’t it seem as if every commercial that doesn’t have pets shows someone dancing, ecstatically happy because of the purchase and use of whatever is being advertised?
Unlike my article of nine years ago, I decided to test out my hypothesis that dogs and dancers dominate TV commercials by watching not just commercials with dogs or dancing, but every TV commercial I could see over a week. I turned the normal TV watching experience on its head, channel flipping towards the commercials instead of away from them. I watched at several times of day, focusing my attention on broadcast and cable news and entertainment stations. No sports channels, for a highly personal reason: the preponderance of ads touting gambling and online gambling sites on sports channels disgusts and depresses me. I know that there are plenty of beer and car commercials on sports channels, too, but I figured I would pick those ads up on other stations.
I saw and made a note of 305 television commercials over the period of a week that aired on 22 broadcast and cable channels. I did not count or make a note of public service announcements or promotions for televisions shows or networks, the latter representing a curious combination of cross-marketing and cannibalization. Of the 305 commercials, I removed 42 from the discussion because they were obviously made on shoestring budgets, and to feature either a pet or dancing requires a good budget. You need to pay either an animal trainer and the owner of the animals or the choreographer and dancers.
That left me with 263 commercials of which:
- 39 featured pets (14.8%)
- 24 featured dancing (9.1%)
Much less than I thought, but still substantial use of these motifs considering the enormous number of themes, images, situations, locations, times, plotlines, interpersonal relationships and dynamics, facial and body expressions, and emotions from which to choice when creating a 15- or 30-second televisions commercial.
Of the 39 commercials featuring pets, 10 were for pet food and other pet products. If we net those 10 out, the battle between dancing and dogs suddenly becomes very close, with each represented in about 10% of all commercials (excluding the ultra-cheapies).
But it does say a lot about our society that the category of commercials for pet products comes in tenth in companies advertising, ahead of hospitals, home and furniture stores, department stores, supermarkets, clothing, cosmetics, attorneys, computer services, toilet paper, liquor, delivery services, and travel. Here are the top 10:
|Junk food and candy (27)
|Financial products, including insurance (26)
|Cars and car products (24)
|Prescription drugs (20)
|Soap and cleaning for people and homes (18)
|Over the counter healthcare products (13)
|Fast food restaurants (12)
|Food products not junk (12)
|Pet products (10)
To the degree that advertising reflects reality, we have become a nation of clean people living in clean houses addicted to junk and fast food that we eat while on the phone in our cars headed to the pharmacy to fill a prescription.
Besides pet products, dogs and cats appear in ads for prescription drugs, crafts, junk food, banks, department stores, hospitals, and cars. Sometimes pets are the center of these commercials, but just as often, they are part of the scenery, like furniture, wall hangings, paved streets, buildings, computers, and children.
We can see dancing in a similar mix of products as those containing dogs: cars, telecom, financial services, hospitals, food, fast food restaurants, prescription drugs, department stores, and delivery services. In all these commercials, though, dancing represents one thing and one thing only: the ecstatic joy at improving one’s life and achieving happiness through the purchase and use of a product or service.
These people are so happy they could dance. And how did they get this happy?
By buying something.
Be it that wonderful feeling of a fresh mouth that gum gives you, or the infinite happiness that fills you when you buy a fashionable top on sale, or the addictive buzz in the brain that a piece of candy drills into you, or the sheer exhilaration of knowing that your basement and closets won’t collect moisture anymore, or the sudden burst of joyful energy that your skin has cleared up (despite the diarrhea, constipation, liver damage, and hot flashes you may suffer)—whatever the problem and product, it’s solved now and that means we can dance our booties off. Dancing means you are happy in CommercialLand, and happy means you have bought something.