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Station Break: He vs. She-TV, Letterman, Leno Ratings

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Paul Farhi
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 6, 2009; 1:00 PM

Washington Post staff writer Paul Farhi was online Tuesday, Oct. 6, at 1 p.m. ET to talk about the latest news and topical issues in the pop culture world of TV, radio, movies and trends.

This Story

Today: He vs. She-TV. We know TV advertisers sell different products to men and to women, but it's how they sell 'em that's revealing (Rule No. 1 of selling to women: Never make a woman the butt of the joke in your commercial. Rule No. 2: Don't use humor at all). Plus: Dave and Jay--Oy vey!

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Paul Farhi: Greetings, all and welcome back...So, here's another reason to be glad you were born male: The TV commercials aimed at you are better than the ones that aren't. I base this observation on a) a lifetime of being male; b) a near-lifetime of watching commercials; and c) the side-by-side comparison (yes, highly scientific!) I conducted last night. With my trusty remote control in hand (are there any more male-oriented words in the English language than "remote" and "control"?), I switched back and forth between "Monday Night Football" and "Dancing with the Stars." Why those two? "MNF" is among the most popular weekly shows among men; "DWTS" is its female-skewing analogue (Female-skewing Analogue: pretty good band name!). Yes, I watched the game, but mostly I watched the ads. Obviously, the products being advertised were waaay different, but so was the tone and style of the ads. The short version: Commercials for stuff aimed at men (beer, trucks, cell phones, banks, something called GoDaddy.com) were livelier, louder, more raucous, more humorous and all-around more "fun" than the women's ads. The women's stuff, meanwhile, was much more wholesome, more logical/direct (appeals to health/health of your family), and far more earnest in tone and temperament. The ads directed at women were also--and I'm not exaggerating here--without any humor at all. Two admittedly extreme examples: To the '70s rock tune "Godzilla," Autotrader.com on MNF shows a giant guy picking up tiny cars and inspecting them (various forms of mayhem follow in his wake). On "DWTS," we get a Welch's grape juice ad talking about how the juice has "polyphenol antioxidents," which I guess are supposed to be good for you.

I acknowledge that form follows function (you don't sell grape juice the way you sell beer), but I'd also submit that form follows audience. Advertisers know who buys what (men: beer and cars; women: toothpaste and Ragu), but they would, it seems, also know something about how to tap into each gender's conscious and subconscious brains. To men, they seem to be saying, "We know you like to laugh, that you're outer-directed (IBM ad: "Let's Build a Smarter Planet"), that you value action over feelings (Autotrader), that you don't mind being hit over the head, metaphorically speaking." To women, they seem to be saying, "You're the family's nurturer, you're keeping hubby and the kids happy (so make sure they get their polyphenol anti-oxidents), that you like things soft and pretty. And, oh, yeah, you find nothing funny about the products you purchase so we won't even think about trying to make you laugh."

My question: Is the psychology of these ads right, for the most part? Is this who we are?

And one more thing: Dave. Jay. Conan: Your updated thoughts, please.

All right, let's go to the phones...

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Glen Burnie, Md.: Related to selling, I hadn't seen previous installments but caught the commercial for Great Moments in Tailgating History during Sunday Night's NFL game. The invention of the tongs was hilarious. Afterward I wondered why they couldn't do stuff like that for the Super Bowl. It was a step above the normal fare and just the kind of thing the big game's been missing for years.

Paul Farhi: Classic guy stuff, no? But what works on an average Sunday-night game might not work on the Super Bowl. Remember, the Super Bowl has lots and lots of women watching; your average Sunday game not so many....

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Richmond, Va.: How low will Leno's ratings have to go before, NBC will pull him and put real programs back in the 10:00 p.m. hour?

Paul Farhi: They have committed to Leno for at least two years (well, that's the contract; they don't have to actually put his show on the air, they just have to pay him for that long). As I tried to say today, it's still very early in Leno's run. Although his numbers aren't good now, they may improve when "CSI," et al, go into re-runs.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Two weeks ago, you said: "I must have missed Dave's I-am-a-liberal editorials; I've never really seen clear evidence of his politics."

Evidence of his politics? You mean like the "politics" of Bill Clinton, Gary Condit, John Edwards, James McGreevey, Larry Craig, David Vitter, Mark Sanford, Eliot Spitzer... Is that what you meant?

Paul Farhi: Two responses: 1) I would bet that Letterman has made fun of all those people, making him an equal-opportunity comedian; and 2) Just a guess but infidelity probably isn't a partisan issue.

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Gaithersburg, Md.: Is it me or does it appear that FOX5 is grooming Tony Perkins for the anchor desk?..And it also appears that he's destined to take over Steve Chenevey's spot as he's more and more filling in for him.

Paul Farhi: And that's a bad thing because...? I like Tony. I'd watch him as an anchorman (I happen to like Brian Bolter, Fox5's main anchor, too).

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washingtonpost.com: Channel 4's Late News Dominates Despite Leno's Lag (Post, Oct. 6)

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Princeton, N.J.: Paul,

Recent transplant to New Jersey, and I am suffering severe NPR withdrawal...

On some days (when the wind blows right, and the sun shines from the north) I get WHYY (which is fabulous), and rarely get WNYC (which is somewhat odd), and then the local N.J. stations (which are mediocre).

So I've been debating getting one of those Internet radio boxes, so that I could listen to any number of different NPR shows. Ever used one? Does it work well?

Paul Farhi: Why bother? You can get "Fresh Air" (WHYY's best show) on WAMU locally. And you can get some of what WNYC produces ("On the Media") on WAMU, too. The rest? Don't WHYY and WNYC stream themselves? Or podcast themselves?

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Alexandria, Va.: I rather suspect advertisers know what they're doing. With hundreds of millions of dollars at stake, they do their market research, you bet. If an ad isn't effective, it gets pulled fast. They can't afford to operate on the basis of anything less.

Paul Farhi: That's my thought, too. But then, wouldn't that suggest that EVERY ad should be effective? If the company has done so much research, it presumably should. Yet ads flop all the time. Hard to explain...

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NY Post: Andrea Peyser of NY Post, "CBS has got to dump David Letterman. Right now."

Unless the NY Post called for the GOP to dump Sen. John Ensign, I'd call them hypocrites. Sen. Ensign had his parents pay the husband of his affair. Is Murdoch's NY Post partisan, just like Fox?

Paul Farhi: I don't really get that column. Dump Letterman? Why? Because he had consenual relations with people on his staff? I'm not endorsing that behavior, but unless we hear about sexual harrassment or some kind of coercive behavior, it's kind of his (and her) business.

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Atlanta, Ga.: If you read Ms. de Moraes' column, she always talks about how TV execs talk about how hard it is to get men to watch TV. So, basically, some shows are skewed for men, and the execs hope they watch. SO it would not be surprising that the ads would be way different. For the 'women's' ads, well, they know they've got the audience and they will just watch over and over. I suspect the ads for men just have to be more entertaining because they will only watch them a couple of times, not over and over. Just another analysis.

Paul Farhi: It's true that men--especially young men--are hard to reach through TV ads. But all advertisers want to reach their target audience multiple times. So, while it's harder to reach men, it's not impossible. You just have to buy more ads. But that doesn't say anything about the WAY advertisers speak to men vs. the approach to women.

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Central Mass.: Hi Paul,

I know this is a little outside your usual area, but I don't know who else to ask.

I'm in my early 50s, so about your age (I think). I'm trying to locate information about a magazine published in the early-to-mid 70s that had a huge influence on me.

It was a health and medicine magazine aimed at the general public. It may have been British. I remember my parents would come home from grocery shopping with the latest issue, so it must have been available at grocery checkouts and regular newsstands.

For its time, I think it was pretty forward. There were frank articles about sex, using anatomical terms not often found in mainstream magazines. It also discussed health and wellness issues that weren't often covered at the time.

What I remember the most were the photos -- again, for its time, they were very clean and modern looking. I remember particularly an article on food habits around the world, with women of different ethnic backgrounds sitting at a dining table, each with a dish in front of her that typified her culture's dietary preferences.

It may have had a very forgettable title like Health or Modern Health or something similarly generic. I think it ceased publishing in the mid 70s.

Is this ringing any bells? It's been driving me nuts, and I haven't found anyone my age who remembers such a publication.

Paul Farhi: Sounds like National Geographic meets Reader's Digest meets Playboy. But I haven't a clue. Perhaps someone in the vast Station Break Nation does. Anyone?

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West Coast: I've noticed the male/female ad dichotomy. As a 41-yr-old unmarried, childless woman, I've often gotten ticked off with the fact that, if you aren't a mommy but are female, advertisers consider you a non-entity. As you note, the male-targeted ads cut across many male demographics -- the advertisers seem to assume that loud, immature humor works with men of varying ages, family situations, marital statuses, etc.

I understand the woman thing. Because I'm not tending to home and hearth and hubby and kids, I don't (need to) buy much crap. As for the male-female dichotomy, there's growing evidence that women hold the purse strings in the family.

Not sure what I'm trying to say here. Except that I have noticed and been fascinated by the same things you mention. I don't tend to like the human race. TV ads remind me why.

Paul Farhi: Well, let's not equate TV ads with the human race, which has had some really great moments over the centuries (good: the invention of ample free parking, one-hour dry cleaning, etc.) But, yes, I think you are on to something. Female-skewing ads assume that the recipient makes a lot of purchase decisions--food, clothing, makeup, over-the-counter medicines. On DWTS last night, I saw ads for TWO toy companies (Fisher-Price and Playskool). In essence the assumption is this: You have kids and a family. You buy lots of stuff for them. We want your money.

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Cleveland Park, Washington, D.C.: re: CBS dumping Letterman

In addition to it being overkill, is Les Moonves really in a position to fire anybody for having sex with a subordinate?

Paul Farhi: Haha! Let's also note that Letterman's ratings are going UP. His show is huge cash cow for CBS (has been for years). Tell me if that sounds like anyone is about to be fired?

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Boston, Mass.: As a guy, I think there's a host of stuff that women love to laugh at, but just among women. So in public space, like commercials, they're not going to open themselves up to self deprecation.

Also, many men have a tendency to make fun of things for no other reason than to get attention. Think class clown/disruptive kid in school. It's rarely a woman -- advertisers are just taking the high ground: if you're going to get made fun of among men, just make the joke first.

I can't speak for what rhetorical devices women tend toward tho :)

Paul Farhi: Please elaborate: What do women like to laugh about in private? Because you see none of it in public (at least whatever kind of "public" TV commercials are). And you will never, ever, ever see a TV advertiser make fun of a woman. Must be some kind of unwritten rule. Men, sure. Men get made fun of all the time in commercials. But it's unthinkable for women. I can't name one on the air now. Can you?

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News4: Interesting piece today on viewer loyalty to Jim and Doreen (News4 at 11). I'm not sure what chemistry or psychology of selling makes these two work so well together, but they are my anchors of choice.

washingtonpost.com: Channel 4's Late News Dominates Despite Leno's Lag (Post, Oct. 6)

Paul Farhi: I find this loyalty curious, too. Not because I think Jim and Doreen are bad together; they're actually quite good. But the "loyalty" to them defies one of the basic rules of TV audiences, which says "lead-in" shows help the next show (in other words, never bet against inertia). In their case, people are switching channels to watch them. Hardly ever happens.

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Princeton Redux: Sorry Paul -- guess I wasn't clear. I just moved TO New Jesersy, and am greatly missing WAMU. WHYY is great, but I don't get reception on my normal radio!

So I'm left with Internet streaming from my computer, but I've seen products out there designed to make the streaming process better, and so that I don't have to boot up my puny laptop every time I want to listen to the radio. That's what I'm asking about!

Paul Farhi: Ah! Sorry. Misunderstood. I'm outside of my techno-comfort zone here. Again, I throw this out to all you brainiacs. Please to help!

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I am NFL fan, hear me roar....: Re: "But what works on an average Sunday night game might not work on the Super Bowl. Remember, the Super Bowl has lots and lots of women watching; your average Sunday game not so many...."

I saw this Great Moments in Tailgating History thing too on Sunday, and as a woman, I am not sure why you would think that "might not work" for us. I laughed heartily at the invention of the tongs... who wouldn't?

Paul Farhi: Okay, now we're progressing. And I bet many women liked "Real Men of Genius," which to me is one of the great radio ad campaigns of the last 20 years. So, we can all get along!

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Paul,

It's funny how advertisers lump all men or women into a single category. I am a married woman in my 30s with two daughters, and would love truck and sports ads, especially funny ones. Guess they are going for the "mainstream" audience, and I'd be considered an outlier.

Paul Farhi: Well, you know, women DO buy a lot of cars, so it's not like advertisers ignore them. But back to our laboratory: On "MNF" the car and truck ads were very aggressive; those Denis Leary Ford-150 ads are very good and very in-your-face. But on "DWTS," the one car ad I saw was for Honda. It was very quiet and peaceful-like. The slogan was, "Everybody Knows Somebody Who Loves a Honda." Ahhhh...

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Alexandria, Va.: CBS can't fire Letterman, because he doesn't work for them. What CBS can do, of course, is drop his show, which they buy from his company, Worldwide Pants. It is those employees of Worldwide Pants that are Letterman's real worry, I should think. All it takes is for one of the women with whom Letterman DIDN'T have an affair to think, "If I had had sex with the boss, then I would have been shown on camera more often and therefore paid extra money, as those other women were." Law suit time!

Paul Farhi: Useful, if technical, correction. Yes. Correct on the firing question...As for the lawsuits: the alleged perp's lawyer was hinting yesterday on the "Today" show that there is/was evidence of sexual harrassment involving Letterman. Well, I'll know it when I see it, if I see it.

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Alexandria, Va.: I realize that Letterman's ratings can still be dismal and NBC will nevertheless make a profit on the show, simply because it's so much cheaper to produce than the scripted shows that it replaced. But how low will they allow the ratings to be, before they decide that it's bad for business overall to be losing so many viewers to the other networks (and to cable) at 10:00?

Paul Farhi: I think you mean Leno here, but yes, it's an issue. The real rebellion will come from among NBC's 200 or so affiliated stations. They won't want to sit around and watch NBC making a profit from Leno when his show is delivering so few viewers to their late newscasts, from which THEY make money. There are, potentially, warring interests here.

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Alexandria, Va.: What do women laugh at in private? Men of course. So I guess it makes sense that commercials that make fun of men are really meant for women, too!

Paul Farhi: I thought so, too. But I didn't see any of those male-bashing (or male-satirizing) commercials on "DWTS," either. Maybe the whole men-are-dorks genre of advertising just isn't that hilarious to women.

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Arlington, Va.: For your N.J. questioner... I have a device called a Squeezebox which was made by a company called Slim Devices before they got bought by Logitech. Logitech sells a number of streaming audio solutions including the latest iteration of what I have. It works quite well for me. As long as you have a wireless network set up you do not have to turn your computer on to use it. Mine is connected to my main home theater stereo system. I use it primarily to listen to my fave radio station from Thailand. But you can program it for any station with a stream or just use the preset stations they have set up including NPR selections. It also allows you to stream your computer's music collection to your hifi.

Paul Farhi: Thanks, Arlington! That sounds like just the ticket...But one peripheral question: Who was the ad wizard who came up with the word "solution" to describe any technical product? It kind of forces the issue, doesn't it? I mean, if every product is a "solution," then they're all more or less equal, no?

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Del Ray, Va.: I chuckled when I read the piece on the Jim/Doreen viewer loyalty. I am one of those viewers. There is a rapport between them and the other reporters. I feel like I'm getting the news from family or friends because they act very down to earth, especially Jim

Let's face it. Everyone is reporting the same news so it comes down to the personalities.

Paul Farhi: Fascinating. News directors are always looking for "chemistry," but it's so hard to define. Maybe, as Justice Potter said about pornography, you just know it when you see it.

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And you will never, ever, ever see a TV advertiser make fun of a woman: Are you saying you miss those "My wife, I think I'll keep her" ads for a certain tonic, or the taunting repetition of "Ring around the collar"? In the '60s and '70s lots of ads mocked females (especially housewives).

Paul Farhi: Hmm. Not sure it's the same thing. Maybe women feel BAD about themselves ("Ring around the collar!") isn't the same as poking fun at them. What I mean is, you'll never a see a woman taking a pratfall (many ads with men doing that), or looking like a big dope (many, many ads with men doing that).

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Rockville, Md.: Here's the thing about TV humor: I am a female, and I don't want to laugh AT anyone, I want to laugh WITH them. And as a grown, self-supporting woman who doesn't take care of anyone else on a day-to-day basis, I'd like to see some commercials pitched somewhere between "Jackass" and Lifetime TV. I guess we're not a very big demographic out here.

Paul Farhi: Not to belittle your comment, but this may be the Rodney Kind School of Advertising--i.e., why can't we all get along? Unfortunately, advertising often works by isolating one group (dumb men in ads) and making them the butt of the joke so that another group (the male target customer) feels better or superior.

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Advertising toward women: Have you ever seen Current TV's Target Women? HILARIOUS.

A classic one: Video: Sarah Haskins in Target Women: Yogurt Edition (Current TV)

Paul Farhi: I'll check it out. I've heard and read about Current TV, but I'm not really sure where to find it on my cable lineup (if, in fact, it's there at all)...

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Alexandria, Va.: I think two of the funniest ads recently are the Gas-Ex one where the guy is interviewing for a job ("You're flatulent in 3 languages", "graduated at the top of your gas", "your son Rip is on line toot"), or the Pepto ones where people are dancing around singing "Nausea, Heartburn, Indigestion, Upset Stomach, Diarrhea."

I've always wondered what the casting calls must be like for ads like that (okay, we want you to dance around singing about the runs), or how many takes they have to do before the actors can say their lines without laughing.

Paul Farhi: Actors are perpetually starving, so I guess there's always going to be someone to take those jobs. On the other hand, it's good that that toilet paper manufacturer uses animated bears in its ads for TP that doesn't "crumble." Not sure anyone would want to take that role.

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re: Jim and Doreen: See, I don't get the Jim and Doreen attraction. Jim Vance has the absolute weirdest cadence in his speech. Doreen, well, she wears a lot of leather, which I think is funny.

On the other hand, I don't really like the other channels. I watch Channel 9 because I like Topper.

Paul Farhi: Maybe Jim and Doreen are the default choice for some part of the audience--that is, the least objectionable of all the alternatives.

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the alleged perp's lawyer was hinting yesterday on the "Today" show that there is/was evidence of sexual harassment involving Letterman: Uh, that still doesn't excuse attempted extortion, especially since it's a felony (whereas sexual harassment is a civil tort).

Besides, when an extortion target reports the attempt to the police (especially promptly), even if s/he has in fact done something wrong, aren't the authorities likelier to grant at least partial immunity in return for sworn testimony (even if the person is being blackmailed over a felony)?

Paul Farhi: Well, of course. He's a DEFENSE lawyer; this is what they do...And no felonies have been alleged (or even suggested) about Letterman. All we know about his "creepy" behavior at this point is that he slept with some of his underlings.

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Jon and Kate plus Hate: Every time I think the public's interest in these two fame-hungry, children-exploiting losers is waning, they come up with some new drama to go on the talk show circuit with. Their both despicable. Please make them go away Paul.

Paul Farhi: La la la la la...I can't hear you. Jon and Kate...la la la la....

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Alexandria, Va.: Ad where woman looks like a dope: The Southwest ad where the woman is snooping around in her friends medicine cabinet and all the shelves come crashing to the ground. ("Want to get away?")

Paul Farhi: True. Good 'un. Interestingly enough, I've only seen that ad during football games. Wonder if it's played elsewhere--like on a show that has a predominantly female audience....

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Jessica Simpson: makes fun of herself for being a complete ditz in the Macy's ads. It's a hoot!

Paul Farhi: Typecasting....

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Arlington, Va.: Tony's been "the weather guy" for so long though it may be a tough transition to make. He's definitely not as smooth reading the news as the other anchors are at this point. How many times has anyone made a successful transition between "positions" on the news team? You see general reporters make it to the anchor desk, but how many times does the sports guy or weather guy or traffic girl make the switch?

Paul Farhi: I can name two people who've made transitions from weathercaster: Pat Sajak....and David Letterman (do I win this week's ThreadWeaver Award?)..

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Beyond he and she: This is like a game to me sometime. When I watch golf (and I'm a girl, btw) it's all ads for investment firms, banks, insurance and luxury cars. When I watch NASCAR, it's ads for Burger King and Wal-Mart. So it's not just gender bias I think.

Also, I noticed lately that there are more female-oriented ads on NFL - the overall lean towards male ads will always exist, but I think advertisers are starting to realize the female audience for the NFL (and NASCAR for that matter) is untapped and is rising.

Paul Farhi: Excellent point--advertisers segment the audience by socioeconomic class as well as by age, race and gender. As those financial ads suggest, the audience for golf is more upscale than the audience for NASCAR (no Jeff Foxworthy or "Talledega Nights" jokes here, please). As for women watching more sports: I've seen that story written for at least 25 years. It's ALWAYS been about to happen. Not sure it really has.

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Women in Commercials:: I haven't seen the Southwest ad, but I think that's funny. Not so funny is the Gas X commercial described earlier. Sounds like a junior high boy wrote it.

Of course, I'm a very serious and humor-lacking woman.

Paul Farhi: You've identified your own personal target market!

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Does a bear...: I have to say, I'm conflicted about those TP ads. On the one hand, even with cute animated bears, EWW. On the other hand, it actually does address a problem with such products, and effectively makes the claim that you won't have that problem with this particular brand.

Paul Farhi: Well, I'm sure the marketing folks over at Procter & Gamble aren't too too concerned about the propriety of those ads, as long as Charmin's market share keeps rising. Though I think I just heard Mr. Whipple turning in his grave...

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re: Ad where woman looks like a dope: But not when a male is on the same screen.

Also, have you noticed that most weight loss advertisement and products aRE directed at women? This even though men don't need to lose as much weight, also. One exception -- Fitness ads.

Paul Farhi: Fascinating sub-question! Can a woman look bad while a man is on the screen? Doing so would suggest a kind of sexual/romantic humiliation. Probably not the best way to get women to buy your stuff.

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Alexandria, Va.: Hillary Howard (then on channel 5) used to deliver the weather, then she did the news. She now is a news anchor on WTOP radio.

Paul Farhi: True dat.

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Halderman's attorney...: ...says he can't wait to get Letterman on cross-examination. I assume he wants to try to change the subject from his client's alleged extortion to Dave's sex life -- sort of like the way that rape victims were traditionally treated on the stand (where even Mother Teresa's virtue would've been made to appear suspect).

Paul Farhi: But I fail to see how revelations about Dave's sex life would adequately defend someone against an allegation of grand larceny (no extortion charges have been filed, btw). Even if he had multiple affairs, it wouldn't excuse someone's coercive behavior.

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Alexandria, Va.: I don't think advertisers target age groups. They assume all consumers are young, except for products like Depends.

Paul Farhi: Untrue. Lots of products are aimed at older viewers. This is how every TV news program stays on the air.

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Commercials making fun of women: I can remember one -- and the product it was selling: about eight years ago when those Gladd containers first came out, there was a commercial involving a mother having a small child complete a loan application for her Tupperware (though it was not named as such). Funny because we have been in both places.

Paul Farhi: Well, if we have to go back eight years, I think we're kinda reaching. There ARE some examples, but they're just exceptions that don't amount to a whole lot.

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Arlington, Va.: Well I'm a woman, but apparently the advertisers aren't talking to me because I don't have a hubby or kids to nurture and keep happy. But then I'd also rather stick knitting needles in my eyes than watch DWTS.

Paul Farhi: Yes, I must say two hours of Tom Bergeron is tough to take. He got very excited about next week's show when he announced that the contestants will be doing the Lambada. I can't wait (not to watch it).

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Alexandria, Va.: And do you think they picked bears for those TP ads as a subtle reference to the old "Does a bear ---- in the woods?" joke?

Paul Farhi: It took me about 4.3 seconds to come to that conclusion. But I'm slow. But you know what? I really don't think so. Reason: Procter & Gamble has never really had much of a sense of humor in its 10 billion ads. And it certainly doesn't have THAT kind of sense of humor.

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re: transitions: Amy Robach used to do traffic reporting for Fox 5. Look at her now.

Paul Farhi: Check!

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The Airless Cubicle: National Public Radio has a webpage for podcasts.

Podcast Directory

Sorry, WAMU and WETA!

And, while I'm at it, this is for the BBC radio podcasts (not all available outside the UKOGBANI): BBC Podcasts

For Australia's Radio National:ABC Radio National

For the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation: CBC Podcasts.

I don't like these as much as I do the Australians or the British, but that's my personal taste.

Paul Farhi: Thanks for those, AC! And not to get all NPR nerdy on y'all, but there's a world of discussion inherent in your "sorry, WAMU and WETA" comment. NPR affiliates ARE sorry that NPR is putting out podcasts (and streaming their shows online) because it ultimately takes listeners (and station contributers) away from the local station. Kind of a thorny issue within the pubcasting world.

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Alexandria, Va.: There was an ad for Zip-Lock sandwich bags where the guy handed a woman a sack full of bees, and then he made a buzzing sound to scare her. I don't know who was being made fun of, though -- her, him, or us.

Paul Farhi: Well, not exactly a big putdown, is it?

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Washington, D.C.: Women laugh at men silly.

Paul Farhi: Having been a recipient many times before, I suspected as much.

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Washington, D.C.: Where can I find a daily lineup of local radio programs and their guests, sort of a "TV Guide," but for radio? And do you know of any software that enables me to set up my computer to record radio shows when I'm not there for later playback, kind of like a DVR for TV? Thank you.

Paul Farhi: I don't know of one. You kind of have to hand build it by going to each station's web site and seeing what they have on. But since there really are only a few stations that change their programming in any meaningful way each day, it's not as hard as it sounds.

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Alexandria, Va.: Raquel Welch used to be a TV weather girl in San Diego. Hmmmm -- maybe she kind of proves your point, about not being able to do anything else (like act).

Paul Farhi: She was? Wow. I think I would have watched that. And weather in San Diego? It really doesn't change. Remember "L.A. Story"? Steve Martin was a TV weatherman in a place where he could just post the same forecast for the next month.

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Los Angeles, Calif.: The best part of the Charmin ads is the nudge nudge wink wink of the subjects (Bears...in the woods?!)Makes me laugh cuz I know a lot of people don't get it.

I am a female, btw...and an avid football fan.

Paul Farhi: We know your kind are out there. And we are very happy that you are!

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Washington, D.C.: I want Letterman's show to be let go as well, but only because I like Craig Ferguson so much better but it's tough to stay up late on worknights.

Paul Farhi: Not gonna happen. I haven't seen the numbers yet, but I'm betting that Dave's show last night was one of his highest rated in many years.

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Annoying commercial: I'm an older woman and find the Geico gekko ads very annoying with that British accent.

I normally hit the volume control button.

I LOVE the caveman ones.

Paul Farhi: As I've probably said before, I actually find the caveman ads objectionable, for the following reason: They're really about how "touchy" various interest groups are. That is, if you're "different" and object to being portrayed in an insulting way, you're just a P.C. schmoe. The "humor" comes from the notion that anyone would find an insult worth complaining about.

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Newark, Del.: For NPR withdrawal, why not just get Sirius/XM? You can get 2 NPR stations on Sirius and Bob Edwards on XM.

Paul Farhi: It's an option, sure.

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Miami, Fla.: Why do all radio stations break for commercials at the same time? Thanks.

Paul Farhi: I'm not sure they do. Though it would be a good strategy if it did happen that way. After all, if every station was in a break at the same time, there would be nothing to flip to. You'd have to stay on your station and endure the ads.

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Arlington, Va.: Paul, if you want to know what women laugh at, you need to call Weingarten and get the contact info for Gena Barreca. She'll explain it all to you. But don't waste your time asking Gene because he still doesn't know.

Paul Farhi: Ah, yes. The collected works of Gene and Gena on this subject could fill a book (and has). I wonder if any advertisers have consulted them...

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Speaking of Craig Ferguson...: Did you catch his opening last night, where he conveyed the discomfort that so many of us are feeling re Letterman's predicament (since he's an employee of Worldwide Pants)? Brilliant!

Paul Farhi: No! But I intend to look for illegal clips of that monologue after this chat. Craig's opening monologues are a little bit of zen; they're fascinating. And as you note, he's in such a weird position (Dave is his boss). Could make for some great comedy...

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From the Laboratory: Paul, how about an experiment where focus groups are shown ads where the selling techniques are switched? Imagine earnest, serious ads for beer and cellphones, and funny, raucous ads for Ragu and toothpaste. Many men assume that women have no sense of humor, or that female-oriented humor is at the expense of men. I would translate the latter as women not being impressed by pathetic male posturing.

Paul Farhi: Interesting suggestion. But I wonder if this has already been tried and discarded. Mass-market advertisers have been at it for the past century or so; they've surely figured out what works (or has a reasonable chance of success) by now. It's true that there are many women who don't respond to the tried and true (many of them on this chat, apparently), but for the most part, the tried and true is the tried and true because it's been tried and found to be more true than not.

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McLean, Va.: So how are the MNF ratings looking post Tony K? I predict better.

Paul Farhi: You are correct. "MNF" is averaging about 14 million viewers through the first three games, up from 13.3 million last year. And you know that average is going higher with the great Vikes-Green Bay game last night. In fact, the opening game on Sept. 21 was the fourth highest rated program that week. And remember: MNF is on CABLE. Very, very rare for anything on cable to crack the top 20, 25 shows...

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Paul Farhi: Folks, it's been great, but I better scoot now. A programming note: Next week, apropos our discussion of two weeks ago, I'm going to invite NPR and Ad Age magazine's Bob Garfield on as a special guest chat star. We can talk about advertising, media, and, of course, Bob's new book, "The Chaos Scenario." Should be good times. Or actually, bad, given Bob's thesis. Anyway, check us out. In the meantime, as always, regards to all! --Paul.

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