Television commercials have become so fashionable in Britain that a new satellite network, the Advert Channel, has begun showing them 24 hours a day.
"People love commercials," said Vince Stanzione, managing director at the network outside of London. Marketing for the Advert Channel takes the same stance, with slogans like, "Everything you'd see on a normal TV channel - except the programs."
Advert Channel programming includes chatty hosts introducing featured spots, viewers voting on which commercials they want to see next, and shows like "Ad Chat," "Adverts for You" and "Advert Focus" tackling their subjects from various angles.
Given the success that American versions of British programs occasionally achieve, could some kind of Advert Channel play here? Mr. Stanzione, for one, sees potential. "I'm surprised nobody's done it," he said.
But Americans may not want much more marketing at all. A study conducted this spring by Yankelovich Partners, a marketing consulting company, found that 65 percent of consumers felt constantly bombarded by too much advertising. More ominously for the traditional commercial, 69 percent said that they were interested in products and services that would help them skip or block ads.
The idea of an all-commercial channel found a mixed response at Commercial Alert, an advocacy group whose mission statement includes a commitment to limit the reach of commercial culture to "its proper sphere."
"We hope this is the future of advertising," said Gary Ruskin, executive director at Commercial Alert, "that it will be segregated to one channel and the rest can be ad-free."
Failing that, Mr. Ruskin said the commercials-as-entertainment approach was just another instance of ad creep.
"There are ads in almost every nook and cranny of our culture," he said. "I think more people would rather bang their heads against the wall than watch more ads."
There is some precedent for advertising-as-programming in the United States, in the form of nine years of specials on ABC called "The Best Commercials You've Never Seen (And Some You Have)."
These two-hour specials achieved high ratings with a mix of foreign commercials, collections of spots revolving around music, "guess the product" segments and lots of humor throughout, said Tracey Baird, a producer at Dakota Pictures who worked on all nine shows.
The first special also highlighted the 1984 commercial from Apple Computer that started the tradition of spectacular "event" commercials during the Super Bowl. In the spot, someone runs into a room and smashes an image of a Big Brother-type face with a hammer. "It was almost a way to give commercials some sort of relevance, to show why they are important," Ms. Baird said.
The impact of advertising on culture is precisely the reason to root for a 24-hour channel, said James B. Twitchell, professor of English and advertising at the University of Florida in Gainesville. "If it's the water we're in, why not study the water?" he said. "It's modern ethnography."
Mr. Twitchell said he had already contacted agencies, advertiser associations and television stations to suggest a show focused on advertising. "You'd have some talking heads, the client, the agency, a fussbudget academic and some Ralph Nader-type," he said. "You would take it seriously because it is the culture that we're in."
Though Mr. Twitchell said he thought there would "absolutely" be an audience, the proposals never gained traction.
One reason that Britons might watch a channel that is literally full of ads is the different style of advertising across the Atlantic, said Catherine Rasenberger, president at Rasenberger Media, which helps start-up cable networks.
"The Brits take great pride in the creativity of their commercials, and I think consumers actually enjoy commercials," Ms. Rasenberger said. "That is not as true in the United States."
Moreover, an audience of interested viewers would not necessarily be enough. "It's a very hostile environment for new networks of any type," Ms. Rasenberger said. "Maybe there's a show, but certainly not a 24-hour network."
Not incidentally, the Advert Channel will sell commercial time during its regular programming. Ms. Baird, the producer, said, "I'd be curious to see who advertises on it."
Nat Ives, The New York Times. July 26, 2004.
Copyright © 2004 The New York Times Company. All rights reserved.