America: 30 seconds at a time

I’ve always been fascinated with people watching.  Seeing smiles on faces energizes me like sunlight energizes Superman. I especially like seeing different cultures and how the react tio the same things, and observing different towns and communities and noticing the subtle differences.

Sometimes it’s the little things, like the change of a font on the street signs, or how some cities handle their stop lights and advanced green signals that amuses me. Sometimes it’s more cultural.

I live in Ontario, where we’re known for bagging our milk, and thinking Toronto is the center of the universe. Apparently I also say “mouth” a funny way. A woman from Seattle once told me I was free to say mouth any time, as it brought her smiles.

One of the unique properties of a Southern Ontario upbringing in the 60’s and 70s was having a much wider TV selection than most places. In many US cities, they had ABC, CBS and NBC in the early days. Living where I did, with a metal antenna up the side of our home, we received those US staples, but also Canadian networks CBC and CTC from a few different cities. Later, we expanded to include Global and CITY TV. When I was 13 or 14, I actually had almost a full section of 13 channels. Most of North America had 5 or less.

In the days before Cable TV petitioned for the rights to replace US broadcasts with Canadian simulcasts, this meant I could watch the major US TV shows on Canadian channels or US channels and see the difference in culture through their commercials. It has always fascinated me. Local culture is always best displayed through commercials. I’ve been a fan of those differences.

Today, I don’t get as many opportunities to witness American commercials. Almost all the shows I can watch on cable are streamed with Canadian commercials, even on the American channels. It’s rare to get to see a show with the US feed, either from Buffalo, Chicago or some other US city.

Today, while watching a show called Rosewood, I happened to record a later version which airs after midnight on a Fox affiliate. Usually I record the 8pm version on a secondary CTV channel from Hamilton.  At first, I didn’t notice anything different, as I fast forwarded right to the start of the episode. During the running of the opening credits, I was surprised to see a “FOX PRESENTS” banner above the title. Interesting I thought, as we don’t see that version here, and it looked like it was a poorly added graphic overlay that was done later, but a different graphics team. Perhaps the Detroit Fox affiliate likes to self promote. I can’t knock them for that. Here in Canada, the competition between networks is getting fierce, and I’ve noticed we’re doing the same. Almost every show starts out with a banner from the parent company now. Sadly there are fewer, as almost all TV in Canada is presented by only three companies. Since many people also download, adding a branding to the credits makes sense.

Where I really noticed the change however, was at the very first commercial break. I paused to write this blog almost instantly. The very first commercial was amazing to me. It was for Lyrica. A medication so bold, it even has lie in it’s name.

Fibromyalgia. It’s one of those semi mysterious conditions that is often diagnosed to people who are sore or tired without obvious explanation. For this reason, it is somewhat controversial, and is often over diagnosed to people. I know almost nothing about it, so I am aware I may offend legitimate sufferers by saying it’s not always a real thing. I accept that judgement. I am a pain wimp, and I don’t want to belittle anyone’s else’s agony.

I did however, find the wording in the commercial almost comical. It’s obvious lawyers are terrified of the litigious American market, but still want to advertise. We have very different last in Canada, and have substantially less medication marketing allowed. I have no doubt if the laws were different, Canada would be flooded with similar ads, but for now, it remains a very America thing. Commercials in the USA are shockingly fear based.

After a few shots of very depressed looking worn down women discussing their loss of energy, they proclaim their doctor has prescribed this drug. These words follow above a “DRAMATIZATION” of a purple body figure with lots of interconnected lights flying slowly around a figure; “Fibromyalgia is thought to be the result of overactive nerves. Lyrica is believed to calm these nerves.  For some, Lyrica can significantly relieve Fibromyalgia pain.”

I found this statement to be very well crafted to indicate, for most, it will do nothing. They don’t actually say anything. The product is a theory, or at the least, something that only works sometimes because nobody is really certain what Fibromyalgia is. Following this, is the nearly 15 second list of side effects the drug may have. These include trouble breathing, rash, hives, blurry vision or suicidal thoughts or actions. The most common side effects however, seem to be the exact effects described 20 seconds previously as the symptoms of Fibromyalgia.

They end the long list with; Don’t drink alcohol. and the text; Lyrica is not a narcotic or antidepressant. I especially love the words; Those who have had a drug or alcohol problem may be more likely to misuse Lyrica, meaning any problems resolution in addition are your fault, not theirs.

Drugs ads are hilarious to me, as a Canadian. Sometimes the listed side effects are longer then the promotional or beneficial descriptions. Drug companies just need enough time to tell you you’re probably sick and should ask your doctor about this drug. Then blah blah blah blah blah for the rest of the ad. I understand all these side effects are listed on the package or a sheet inside the bottles, even in Canada, and I understand it’s a law, and probably even a good idea to have them clear in a commercial, booth for health and legal reasons… but it’s still funny.

The commercial ends with the tag; See our ad in HEALTH, which I assume is a magazine.  The commercial ends with photos of the worn out ladies now enjoying a camping trip with her family, and the next commercial begins.

It’s an add for a credit card, aimed at terrifying you about scam artist contractors, and how their product tells the truth. 1% Cashback. It neglects to inform you of the interest rates. I was almost surprised it didn’t have a long disclaimer with it, or at least teeny unreadable text… but I guess banks have a better lobby group against being honest in ads about the downsides. It was only a 15 second spot anyway, leaving hardly enough time for a fast talking announcer to say something like; “credit card companies may cause financial grief, loss of relationships and/or everything you own. Do not use while intoxicated or after 4am. Side effects may include suicidal thoughts or actions”.

The following ads were more national, and similar to Canadian ads, although the Glad garbage bag ad was still quite fear based. It solved the problem of your mother smelling a stink when she comes to visit. You need Glad Garbage bags to eliminate that odour. Not having glad bags may result in suicidal thoughts or actions.

It didn’t say that in the ad, but like many US commercials, that side effects of suicidal thoughts or actions if you don’t buy their product, or elect their candidate or ask your doctor about their medicine is implied. Maybe the solution to America’s suicide violence problem is just getting the right garbage bags.

End of Part 1.

 



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