You’re watching your favorite show. Something exciting is about to happen…and…the network goes to commercial. So you tune out for a few minutes while the advertisements flash by. But did you know that companiesstrategically plan when they’re going to run these commercialson television, on which channel, and during which program? Commercials are expensive, and companies want to target a specific audience—the audience that’s most likely to be interested in buying their products. Let's watch some TV anddo a psychology experiment at the same time!
What can the day of the week, time of day and television program during which certain commercials run tell us about the kind of audience companies are trying to target?
- Television with cable channels
- You can either draw the outline below on a piece of paper, or create it on your computer to take notes during the experiment. You will need five of these tables.
Day of Week & Time:
# of Commercials:
Products / Services Advertised:
- You are going to choose five different television programs to watch. One should be early in the morning (try catching the morning news around 7 am), one during the afternoon (it’s best if you can do this during a weekday around 2 pm, during a soap opera), one during a weekday evening when a popular series drama is showing a new episode (this will likely be around 8 pm), one during a weekend sports game (see if you can record your notes during a big football game on Sunday afternoon), and lastly, one late at night (around 11 pm, maybe during a talk show).
- When you sit down to begin your experiment, take note of the television program that’s showing, and the time of day. The program can be half an hour or an hour long.
- When the show goes to its first commercial break, you’re on! Make a hash mark for each commercial that runs. Quickly jot down the name of the product or service that is advertised. Repeat to include all of the commercial breaks in the duration of the program.
- After you’ve taken notes for all five programs, look at your data with a critical eye. What connections can you make between the day of the week, time of day, the television program, and what commercials were running?
There is a strong correlation between the day of the week, time of day, the television program, and what advertisements are shown. The commercial content matches the potential interests of the audience that’s tuning in for the program.
Companies work hard to advertise their products to the right audience. They don’t want to waste money to advertise to viewers who have a very low likelihood of having any interest in what they want to sell.
Did you find that children’s toys were being advertised during the Sunday football game? Probably not. Were more make-up and hair-care commercials run during the evening series drama? Marketing researchers profile the viewing audience of a program and schedule commercials that will appeal to that audience. Advertising psychology is such a part of our lives that it has its own field of study.
See what other connections you can make. When you turn a critical eye towards these commercials, you will learn a lot about how the media targets its consumers.
After you have identified what products are being sold during these various time slots, you can look at how the commercials are selling the products and think about how companies are trying to attract consumers.
For instance, let’s imagine that we’re watching an evening drama about two attractive detectives in a big city. The network goes to a commercial showing a sleek sports car. A man parks the car, and a beautiful woman in a dress walks up to him and smiles. The logo for the car brand appears. Think about the typical audience that would be watching the drama (children or adults? male or female? etc.), and then apply this to what you see in the commercial. Is the commercial just selling a reliable car, or is there a deeper message? Could it be that the commercial is making promises about a lifestyle that having that car would bring? The more you look, the easier it will be to notice these connections.