I call it "The Ambush."
It all started ten years ago while I was watching a New York Giants game with my nine-year-old son, Matthew. The game was being broadcast on Fox at 1:00 pm on a Sunday afternoon. Rooting for the Giants was one of those wonderful father-son experiences in my family and watching a professional sporting event in the middle of the afternoon seemed like a pretty safe thing to do. During that game, there was a commercial for a very popular new program called "Boston Public" which was a series about a high school in Boston. The program had some adult themes but it aired late at night and I had no objection to that. However, the ad on the football game used a clip from the coming episode depicting an elderly school administrator who was seriously hitting on a female high school student.
All the V-Chips in the world as well as the parental controls in my set-top box were useless for this type of ambush.
I turned to my son who watched the commercial without much reaction but I couldn't help but wonder what was going through his nine-year-old brain. Could he think this was normal adult behavior? Was this what he thought would happen when he gets to high school?
Needless to say, I was appalled by what I thought was just a momentary lapse of good judgment.
But, as it turned out, the Boston Public ad was the beginning of a whole new era. Suggestive and inappropriate ads were popping up all over the place. I soon came to realize that it was nearly impossible for parents to responsibly monitor what their kids saw on television. More and more, these types of commercials were being aired without regard to their appropriateness for the programs on which they're running.
So, here we are, decade later. And it seems to just get worse and worse. For instance, how often do we watch TV and see ads for Viagra?
Ok. Those ads are about a medical product which is approved by the FDA and is scientifically proven to be effective. The ads are even usually done tastefully. But do they have to be aired constantly on Sunday afternoons during ballgames? Doesn't anyone think that, as a result of this bombardment that young children know way too much about male impotence and the need to seek medical help if, after four hours, .... you get my drift.
I'm not an advocate of government censorship and don't seek it here. I even believe that running these spots are fair game and serve a purpose as long as they run during programs that are designed for an adult audience and air late enough that children are unlikely to be watching.
But it gets worse. Now we are being bombarded with pitches for products that "enlarge that certain part of the male anatomy" (direct quote from a pretty young woman). These products have no cover of FDA approved effectiveness. Many scientists claim they are a sham. And to add insult to injury, the spots are tasteless and obnoxious. Many, in my opinion, are insulting and degrading to women and have no place on TV at all.
Here's my main issue. I regularly see this ad while watching the news at 8:00 in the morning! I checked with the cable network and they don't air the spot. So it was the local cable company inserting the ad. I immediately checked with our ad sales folks and learned we are not airing the ad in our markets. I also know that some cable networks do indeed run this ad and don't restrict it to late night, adult oriented programs. To be fair, I am aware that a few programmers, like A&E refuse to air the spots even though in A&E's case they own the male-oriented History Channel (a natural audience for these ads) and I applaud them for acting so responsibly.
It worries me deeply that there is a total lack of self-regulation based on good common sense when it comes to airing these types of spots. I know the economy is tough and ad sales organizations are hurting. But airing spots like this, all day long and on any program, is a reflection of how much more some value making money than making responsible content decisions reflective of who may be watching.
I really do understand how these things can slip through the cracks by being part of a big national buy from a middleman (as this one seems to have been), but for heaven's sake -- someone at every network and ad sales organization should be responsible for giving these things some grown-up thought.
This trend is deeply disturbing to me and seems to be an invitation for advocates of government censorship to try to step in.