Hey Pols, Pump Down the Volume on Ad Bill

Legislator wants to outlaw loud commercials. But who needs Congress when you have the mute button?

By Jere Hester
|  Friday, Dec 18, 2009  |  Updated 3:02 AM CDT
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Obama's Littlest Constituents

AP

Congress is trying to clamp down on loud commercials by the likes of the late TV pitchman Billy Mays.

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Amid the raucous health care debate, a California Congresswoman is quietly floating a law aimed at protecting the ears by banning loud commercials.         

Rep. Anna Eshoo, The Los Angeles Times reports, is proposing turning down the volume on jarring ads – the kind that follow a dramatic pause on a TV show with a window-rattling decibel leap into product pitching.

But do we really need Congress to save us from hitting the mute button?

Loud commercials are bothersome to be sure, but if Congress’ role includes legislating against the annoying, then we never would have seen (or heard) the iconic Crazy Eddie ads.

Eshoo calls her bill the Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation – or CALM –  Act. (Clever – but maybe she would get more notice by touting the bill as the Billy Mays Act, in honor of the late and proudly loud pitchman).

While the bill is proving a constituent pleaser, the measure would give government a role in regulating expression – and that’s troubling, even if the expression in question is a mundane, if noisy, detergent ad. Few will argue against truth-in-advertising laws, which protect consumers from fraud perpetrated over public airwaves. But controlling the form ads take shouldn't be Washington's job.

The truth is people already are tuning out commercials. In the age of DVR, shrinking audiences for network shows and competition for viewers and ad sales with the Internet, the TV industry is rethinking the advertising business.

Producing entertaining ads would seem to be a better strategy than bombarding viewers with noise. As Dan Jaffe of the Association of National Advertisers told The Times: “You do not want to be offending those who you're trying to sell to."

Congress, meanwhile, has more import things worry about than loud commercials. Passing a law would be, as Crazy Eddie might put it, "Insaaaane!"

Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.

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