I was in my 20s. I had a job with Liberty Motor Freight Lines in a two-man office — the boss and me. But I was trying to get a job of some sort in radio.
I found an ad that said WHIL was looking for a copywriter. So, on my lunch hour I drove to the station and was totally surprised to find I had to audition. I had to write a 60-second ad for Community Chevrolet, pushing used cars.
I sat at the typewriter and looked out the window. The leaves on the trees were sprouting again. The cold of winter had almost ended. I wrote . . . "In the spring a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of . . . convertibles!"
Before I got back to Liberty, WHIL had called and said I had the job.
I tell you all this to claim that when it comes to commercials, I know a little bit about them. I know you're expected to "sell the sizzle." I know you're supposed to "attract attention."
However, it's my view that the current crop of ads on TV don't measure up.
You can easily watch a commercial now and have no idea what the product or service may be. The technology ads are proof of that. Nowadays, companies with three letters for names — LMN, OPR, QST — are spending millions on spots that don't tell me anything, as far as I know.
There's no sizzle to sell if I don't even know what they do.
The worst thing about commercials these days is the increase in negativity. Pharmaceutical companies are the big offenders.
I have rheumatoid arthritis, and I refused to take one prescription drug because of the company's ad. I had a choice, and so I selected the competition.
In the offending ad, a woman looks directly into the camera and challenges the patient by saying, "Are you going to wait until you can't lift a finger?"
Another pharmaceutical ad I find negative shows a man walking down the street, unaware that a hospital stretcher is rolling along behind him.
And another spot says, "Prescribed by more doctors than any other medication!" That doesn't necessarily mean it's good for you. It just means that the company's staff has worked really hard to get the doctors to prescribe.
Somebody out there in commercials today thinks violence is funny. Smash-ups on roadways. Library bookcases toppling one another. Cars driven off bridges. They think it's a way to get you to look, but what does it sell?
To those people, I have three words: cats and dogs.
Commercials with small animals usually are remembered. A dog's funny face and expression, a beautiful cat's haughtiness, create interest. Want proof? Watch to see how many products and services that have nothing to do with pet foods now feature pets.
Some commercials are annoying because of their loud volume, or because announcers seem to have been pushed to hysteria by the sponsor's name. But, on the other hand, some spots that really connect, really work.
One is the Queen Latifah series for Jenny Craig; these seem to tell dieters they can get to the weight they want, but they don't insist that consumers "can never be too thin.''
Then there is the Purina Puppy Chow spot in which a nifty little dog pushes a kid in a cart along the sidewalk, and the one in which an ordinary-looking woman drives men crazy by using Planters cashews as cologne. Excellent.
We've come a long way since TV host Arthur Godfrey tried to find the chicken in the chicken noodle soup, but much of the change has not been for the better.
New Port Richey resident Jim Aylward was formerly a nationally syndicated columnist and radio host in New York City. Write him in care of LifeTimes, St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731.