Funny Pages Continue Assault on Advertising

Baby Marvin Falls Prey to Commercial Clutter

By Published on .

Oh, don't act so surprised.
Oh, don't act so surprised.
Since "Marvin" centers on a mere infant, you might think the strip would grasp at humor with a modern edge -- something younger generations (not the people who typically ruminate over the comics) find hip and funny. Instead, this soggy-diapered tot is helping to illuminate one of the hoariest complaints on the funnies page: Too many TV commercials.

In a strip that does nothing to dispel the image that this nation's newspaper comics are increasingly geared toward people who have enough time in the morning to gum their Farina with care and powerlessly rail against the dozens of minor-league ills that plague our American way of life, young Marvin takes note of the preponderance of commercials that glut our airwaves. So noxious has this menace become that Marvin finds himself plopped in front of a TV where the very program he's watching has been "edited" by the network so "we could cram in like a gazillion commercials."

We'll pause for your raucous laughter here. That's quite a zinger, eh? And it's funny because it's true!

Well, sort of . Yes, TV networks do arrange and "traffic" their ad breaks. That's why segments of "Hawaii Five-0" or "Law & Order: SVU" tend to end as they do, with a little suspense and tension hanging in the ether. The hope is you'll come back and watch the show after being served your requisite portion of ads. And yes, the networks are responsible for the number of commercials contained in each break. The number tends to rise with the years, according to a popular study of ad "clutter" done by WPP's Mindshare (so popular and so on the mark has this study been about the increase of clutter over time that the agency a few years ago stopped trumpeting it with a national press release and instead left it to spread internally).

We've heard from other comic-strip characters -- most notably Dagwood Bumstead from "Blondie" -- on this topic, and the consensus appears to be the same: The TV powers run too many ads for the Everyman to handle.

But how does little Marvin fit into this ongoing struggle?

This little baby shouldn't be able to understand what a commercial is , let alone make a statement about how many of them he sees. And that probably wasn't his original intent. He's simply sitting in front of a TV set whilst the announcer tells viewers their airwaves have deliberately been clogged with promotions for toilet-bowl cleaner and Big Macs. Yet the way our tiny protagonist shifts his eyes between the first panel of today's comic and the second ought to make the reader believe he's in on the joke.

Let's settle this right now. Yes, there probably are too many ads on TV for any single spot to be tremendously effective. The simple fact of the matter is that most advertisers have to run their commercials dozens of times across tens of TV outlets in order to sear them into your brain. Some money is probably wasted and the patience of consumers is likely pushed to its limit.

And to answer your other question, yes, whoever left Marvin in front of the TV with nothing but the empty, soulless baritone of a TV pitchman to soothe his fussing ought to be hauled off to the authorities and charged with child neglect.

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