A Couch Potato Way of Self-Knowledge


Following on from my previous post about self-Googling, let’s talk about self-knowledge. 

“Know thyself” was inscribed on the ancient Temple of Apollo in Delphi, where the famous oracle made her pronouncements.  Many have debated exactly what it means and how it can be achieved.

Back in 1972, the National Lampoon released Deteriorata1.  A hilarious parody of the New Age-y spoken word recording Desiderata, it offered a number of take-offs on platitudes, including “Know yourself.  If you need help, call the FBI.”

I’ve found another method of self-discovery – one that doesn’t require making a Freedom of Information Act request to the Department of Justice.  In fact, it’s remarkably easy – all you have to do is look at the commercials that run during your favorite television programs.

First, let me back up.  Many people operate under the assumption that programs are the content of television.  Forget that – television programs are like the attract mode on video games in an arcade.  The attract mode is designed to attract passers-by to play the game – the programs are designed to attract people to watch the real content: commercials.

Advertising is a hybrid of art and science – no commercial is ever run without hundreds of hours of research and testing to focus it “like a laser beam” on its intended audience.  So… as I said, just examine the commercials on your favorite shows and you’ll get insight into who you are.

I’m a big fan of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.  On Monday night (06/15/2009) the show and commercials were as follows:

Satirical coverage of the Iranian election [liked the joke about “Soccer Imams”] followed by commercials for:

  • Geico car insurance (cavemen bowling)
  • MGD 64 (low calorie beer)
  • Quiznos (“torpedo” sandwiches)
  • Doritos Tacos at Midnight (flavored tortilla chips)
  • OnStar by GM (automatic crash response on Chevrolets)
  • tosh.o (Comedy Central show about silly stuff on the Internet)

A segment about Long Island seceding from New York state followed by commercials for:

  • Heineken (regular calorie beer)
  • Zantac (heartburn medicine)
  • Kraft Ranch Dressing
  • Public Enemies(movie about John Dillinger starring Johnny Depp)
  • 99 (“fragrance for men”)
  • Smirnoff Ice (flavored “premium malt beverage”)
  • Pantene Shampoo
  • Febreze (anti-odor spray – features a teenager with a smelly room)

An interview with former Daily Show correspondent Ed Helms, promoting the movie The Hangover followed by commercials for:

  • Natural Light (low calorie beer)
  • Rogaine (hair re-growth foam)
  • T-Mobile (cellular phone service)
  • Away We Go (movie by director Sam Mendes starring John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph)
  • Dunkin’ Donuts (featuring a 99 cent egg and cheese “Wake Up Wrap”)
  • cube (Nissan’s version of the “box-on-wheels aimed at the youth market” vehicle)

 So… what can we learn from this? 

  • All that time I’ve spent learning to appreciate fine wine was totally misguided – I’m actually a beer drinker!  And, apparently, 75% of the time I’m watching my weight.
  • I might be able to skip the Zantac if I cut out all the junk food.
  • I need to check out the safety features on the Nissan cube, because I may be prone to car accidents.
  • Keep your distance from me if you have fragrance allergies.

To quote Britney Spears, “That is just so typically me.”

Now, you try it!  See what the sponsors of your favorite programs can tell you about yourself – if you dare!


1.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UJJBtmhRRl8


9 Responses to “A Couch Potato Way of Self-Knowledge”

  1. 1 Susan Sybert


    Ok…I thought the idea had enough merit that I tried it…even though I now never watch commericials..because I record everything.

    I have to admit my sinful TV pleasures are what my husband likes to call my silly scifi…..I love all the Star Treks..but have seen them all –so now rarely watch…but my new favorite is Stargate Atlantis…..and I was quite suprised to see that the commercials seemed to be about Videogames, commericals, and violent movie trailers! In fact….they seem to think I am teenage boy!!! oh no…

    • Susan:

      Thanks for trying it… given your marketing background, I thought that you might be intrigued.

      You bring up a point that I had cut from the blog post… even if you TiVo the programs and fast forward through the commercials, you still are the target audience for them. You’re just using technology to avoid them, like a speeding driver with a radar detector.

      I’m so glad that you’ve discovered your inner teenage boy… a tube of Clearasil, a bottle of Axe Body Wash and a copy of Maxim magazine are in the mail. Now, get back to playing Grand Theft Auto.

  2. 3 ted

    And I watched NBC Nightly News – they thought I was an on-the-go woman over 50.

    -Celebrex (arthritis)
    -Centorum (vitamin – women over 50)
    -Reclast (osteoprosis? – on-the-go women)
    -Crestor (bad cholesterol)
    -Bayer Aspirin (prevents low blood sugar??)
    -Band-Aid (accidently dropping grandchildren)
    -Neosporin (writing it down – missed what it does)
    -Lanacane (left grandchildren in locked car in the valley?)
    -publisher’s clearing house (Hey! A product for young people too!)
    -Net Zero (no idea what this is – ponzi scheme?)
    -Bush’s Baked Beans (finally – for active men like me!)

    Brian Williams – he’s cute!

    • Ted:

      At this very moment, a camera crew from Publisher’s Clearing House is heading towards your home with a giant check made out to Ted Herrmann… the line for the amount reads “menopause.”

      You go girl… er, ma’am.

  3. 5 JIm Laffan

    Why be so complicated? Couldn’t we just judge you by the company you keep? Laffan vouches for Dorn– that’s good enough! Set the guy up with a glass of MGD 64, with a WD 40 chaser! He loves that stuff! Almost forgot: add a donut floater, too–Mr. Dorn is mighty particular about what he puts in his mouth. And because you’re Jim’s friend, sir, the Rogaine tonight is compliments of the house! Don’t use Rogaine? Bullshit, it’s right here in your personalized histogram of TV viewing! You’re as horny for the stuff as some schmuck under a window watching his teenage neighbor undressing herself: Rogaine ads is all you look at on the tube besides commercials for Dunkin’ Donuts and beer. Based on this criterion, there’s little to differentiate you from Homer Simpson. At least if you used more Rogaine on your head and less on your armpits you wouldn’t have to buy that weird smelling Febreze shit to spray on them–yeah, we know about that, too.

    So is this all we are? A rebus of American consumer products wrapped in an enigma, with eggs and cheese and a side of fries? When I look at myself in the mirror, wondering who I really am, all I see is my neighbor, ogling me through binoculars from across the way, waiting for me to take off my clothes. When will the regression end?


  4. Uh-oh… the “I” in Jim is capitalized again. I told you to seek medical attention about that!

    Thanks for vouching for me… though judging me by the company I keep (i.e., you) raises another issue: What you fail to disclose in your comment is that you do not watch television (or at least so you claim… your Homer Simpson/donut/beer reference indicates that this may only be a technicality). If you don’t watch television programs that have commercials, then no television commercials are targeted at you. In other words, you don’t exist — at least as far as that “rebus of American consumer products” is concerned. When you look in the mirror, you’re lucky that you see anything at all.

    As far as your voyeur neighbor… is this the guy who went to Redwood High School? Shameful! We’d better find out who sponsors the programs HE watches!

    • 7 JIm Laffan

      Dorn: Jim was my slave name. I now capitalize the I in JIm and the A in LAffan to honor of the artificial insemination technique I’ve discovered was used to sire me. I I I already HAVE sought medical attention about this little personality tic but all I’ve been told is that I suffer from unresolved Oedipal issues. Why couldn’t the West Covina Sperm Bank at least have a part-time receptionist on duty today? When I called to wish it Happy Father’s Day I only got its answering machine. At least Obama got that basketball from HIS Dad.
      You’re right that television is not part of local entertainment up here. Canaanites, Sodomites and the Village Idiot from West Gomorrah, when the weather gets warm all go barefoot down to the fairgrounds for our pagan Lathika Fire Walk http://www.aspcanaan.org/wp/?p=122 The only reason I know about Homer Simpson is because Springfield Vermont was chosen for the world premiere of the Simpson’s Movie a couple of years ago. Our brass band got the honor of playing the Simpson’s theme song over and over in front of the old movie theater in the center of town while Disney-style big-headed Homer and Marge walked up and down waving their huge, yellow mitts at the crowd. For my services, I got a free cone of Ben & Jerry’s Beer and Donut Ice Cream, specially concocted for the day’s festivities and possibly never tasted again on planet earth. So you see, MIke, even without a TV to shape my personality, I’ve still managed to develop into someone with frightening religious rituals who knows all about American cultural icons . TV is vastly overrated, Mike; my pagan friends all agree that it’s ionic disturbances in the upper atmosphere that make us all so surprisingly alike.

      • Well JIm…

        “Based on this criterion, there’s little to differentiate you from Homer Simpson.”
        Mike & Homer in Cortona

        Hope your feet have recovered from the Lathika Fire Walk.

  5. 9 JIm Laffan

    Which one is Homer? And: Why is the guy holding the gelato wearing a codpiece? J

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