You’ve surely experienced this.
You’re enjoying watching your favorite TV show…
Cut to commercial and a loud ad comes on.
So loud you’re forced to hit “Mute” asap. If you want to spare your hearing, that is…
And if you’ve been wondering why commercials are like that…
Read on to find out the answer.
Continue reading to find out:
- Why companies choose to make loud commercials.
- The US law that was created to regulate TV ad volume.
- The federal government agency tasked to regulate TV commercials.
- How companies are taking advantage of a loophole in the volume regulation law.
- And this is just the beginning…
Why are commercials so loud on TV?
Commercials are so loud on TV because advertisers want to grab our attention. And the easiest way to do that is by turning up their ad volume to as loud as legally possible. The US Congress had actually passed a law regulating commercial volume. But not enough is being done to implement the law.
3 reasons commercials are so loud on TV
#1: Companies want to grab the viewers’ attention
Television is still the preferred medium for ads
The world’s first-ever TV commercial aired in July 1941.
It was for Bulova Watches. Makers of high-end wristwatches.
The ad appeared during a baseball game.
You may check out this video to see the actual commercial:
Over 8 decades later and TV ads are still king.
Even with the rise of streaming services…
Television is still the preferred medium of many advertisers.
The cost of TV ads
These television ads don’t come cheap. On average, a 30-second ad on primetime network shows costs a little over $100,000.
For major events like the Superbowl… Commercial costs could go as high as $6 million per half a minute.
And since companies want to make the most of their ad investment…
They strive to make their commercials as attention-grabbing as possible.
The easiest way to do that?
Turn up the ad volume. To as loud as legally possible.
Going loud is an effective advertising strategy
It’s been said that our hearings are faster than our vision.
And it’s our ears that notice ads first. Not our eyes.
In addition, companies are also well aware that people don’t really pay full attention to ads.
So they have every reason to make their ads as loud as possible. To the point where you really can’t ignore them. Even if you tried.
And it’s proven to be effective.
You may not be paying full attention to the ads that you’re seeing.
But once you’re at the grocery store…
You’ll all of a sudden remember that laundry detergent brand that you saw on TV the previous day. And you’ll end up buying the product.
Of course, we’re all wishing there was a better way for brands to present their products.
But as long as going loud works…
Companies aren’t likely to change their advertising strategy anytime soon.
#2: The law for ad volume regulation has a loophole
Did you know that there’s actually a law that regulates ad volume?
Yes, there really is. It’s the aptly named Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation (CALM) Act of 2012.
This law was authored by California 18th District Representative Anna Eshoo. And it took effect in December 2012.
How CALM came about
Here’s a little bit of history on how the CALM law was made.
In 2009, Rep. Eshoo was having a peaceful dinner with her family.
All of a sudden, a loud TV commercial came on. Disturbing their mealtime.
She asked her brother-in-law to turn down the volume. He responded by saying she should make a law against loud commercials.
And she did. She ended up crafting a law regulating commercial volumes.
The CALM law loophole
“So what exactly does the CALM law state about commercial volumes?”
The average loudness of TV commercials should be similar to the loudness of TV programs. That’s pretty much what the CALM law states.
On paper, this sounded great. This meant commercials wouldn’t be louder than TV shows.
But advertisers soon figured out a way to take advantage of this.
Well, they would include a few seconds of dead silence in their ads. And then turn up the volume really loud on other parts.
By including those few seconds of silence…
The overall average loudness of their ads is lowered.
So the CALM law didn’t entirely eliminate those 30-second non-stop loud commercials. But merely lowered the duration of the loud parts.
#3: FCC is not regulating enough
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is an agency in the US government.
Their job is to regulate communications that take place on the following media:
So it’s part of their duty to ensure that TV commercials aren’t too loud.
The problem is they don’t actively try to regulate every TV commercial.
They don’t actively enforce measures to stop these loud commercials.
The FCC rather relies on complaints from viewers.
Their process is that they ask people to file complaints on loud TV ads.
And while they evaluate individual complaints, they don’t always take action. They’ll only act if enough number people file a complaint on a particular ad.
So a lot of complaints end up being without any action from the FCC at all.
Bonus: The lack of dynamics in TV ads makes them seem even louder
The truth is, TV ads aren’t really louder than TV programs.
Commercials are only as loud as the loudest part of a TV show.
It’s just that commercials aren’t as dynamic, sound-wise, as TV shows.
The term dynamics in music or sound refers to the variation in loudness.
TV shows do have loud parts. Such as fight scenes or explosion scenes. But obviously, not every scene is like that.
There are also quiet, intimate scenes. And this dynamic is why we aren’t as bothered by TV programs’ sounds.
Compare that to TV commercials. Where almost the entire duration is about as loud as the TV programs’ fight scenes.
And you’ll realize why we perceive them to be even louder than they actually are.
That’s why it’s always handy to have the remote nearby. You can always simply turn down the volume when commercials come on.
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