Dear Networks, Dagwood Bumstead Has Had Enough

Marketers Ignore Blondie's Husband at Their Own Peril

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Whining about the number of commercials on TV is about as common, as, well, having too many commercials on TV. But you know the issue has struck a deeper chord among the mass of U.S. couch potatoes when none other than Dagwood Bumstead joins the chorus of critics.

"I've never seen so many commercials in a row before," Dagwood complains to his wife in today's episode of "Blondie." He adds: "Networks must think viewers have nothing to do but stare at one mindless commercial after another." Not being one to upset apple carts, of course, Mr. Bumstead admits by the end of the strip that he sits through the ads anyway.

He may not be taking any action, but marketers would do well to heed the earnest fellow.

Many of us dismiss Dagwood every day, and with good reason. He's been stuck in the same dreary old office job for decades; gets a boot in the rear every time he asks for a raise; needs a new haircut (how does he get those hairs to stand out horizontally like that?); and seems to drown his sorrows about life in bad diner food and hoagies piled sky-high. We wonder why Blondie hasn't dumped him for a suitor with more vim and vigor (words they used when Blondie and Dagwood were hip themselves).

He may be a hapless blunderer who traded fortune for love, but whose family and professional lives hang by a thread, but he also serves as a terrific Everyman. If he doesn't like something, chances are others don't like it, either. So marketers, you can ignore Dagwood at your own peril.

In past strips, Dagwood has taken issue with everything from satellite radio to the quality of artificial butter oozed on to the popcorn you eat at the movie theater. We don't think he's the sole arbiter of what sticks in the U.S. consumer's craw, but we do think if he's got a bee in his bonnet about something, chances are others do, too. This is a main character in one of the nation's oldest comic strips, aimed at newspaper readers who haven't abandoned their broadsheets for the latest in digital information exchange. If you've ticked off Dagwood, chances are you've struck a nerve among a large segment of your target audience.

Newspaper readers, are, after all, the crowd that continues to buy the Procter & Gamble and Unilever and Kimberly-Clark products they bought in their youth. As baby boomers age, chances are more audiences at the upper end of your customer demo will move into a similar position.

TV-network honchos and ad-agency execs regularly pooh-pooh concerns about running too many ads at once. Why, Viacom's Spike TV went so far last year as to run ad breaks lasting eight to ten minutes in length, and ad buyers tell us regularly that channel isn't the only offender on the set-top box.

The simple fact, though, is that no one really turns on the TV so he can watch commercials. And the more that run in a single ad break, the more weary and frustrated the consumer grows. As the Bumsteads demonstrate, not every U.S. household has a digital-video recorder at the ready.

Some people out there just want to come home from another soul-draining day at work, turn on the TV and forget their troubles. To those advertisers and TV executives who would deny someone this simple pleasure, Dagwood Bumstead offers a bracing lesson about the ill feelings you're sowing among the larger part of the populace.

Let's hope he doesn't have a chat with Hi and Lois or the ladies at Apartment 3-G, because it could spark a real anti-advertiser rebellion.

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