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Modern Commercials Are Becoming More and More Provocative

Pop Culture

August 14, 2022

Within the last century, commercials and marketing ads have shifted their strategy to a more direct approach. Many viewers consider this direct approach to be culturally appropriate as times are changing and representation is imperative to social growth; however, many deem this approach provocative and inconsiderate. In the age of clickbait and low censorship, it is easy to understand this perspective. In order to truly grasp the development of modern media and its portrayals, you must go back in time and note the progressions and regressions of the media that we as viewers consume.

The world’s first televised commercial aired in 1941. The Bulova Watch Company ad was 10 seconds long, cost around $7 to create, and was only seen by a few thousand people in New York. If this ad were to be shown on modern television, it would be laughed at and forgotten. But this was the beginning of a trend.

Most people remember the ads targeted at female homemakers for smoking. Some would claim that your dentist is just as positive as the marketers themselves that you’ll love a good quality cig. One ad for Marlboro used babies to advocate for the good smoke that is Marlboro cigarettes.

Some would even go so far as to promote the health benefits of these cancer sticks, claiming that they will relieve stress or make you thin. While many of these claims have been refuted by modern science and frowned upon by educated eyes, it’s important to see that this was the beginning. The beginning of pushing the invisible boundary between what people expected to see on television and what they were going to get, in hopes that it would sell the product.

Companies like Colgate, Disney, and Coco-Cola were also masters of the advertisement. Using comedy and likeability to attract purchasers, these companies flourished. After cheesy comedy bits were used to death, catchy jingles and songs became popular and are still prevalent in today’s media. “The best part of waking up…”, “SNAP!

CRACKLE! POP!”, and “I’m lovin’ it…” are all prime examples of such. The minute you read them, you know how they sound.

Purpose of the Media

The intent of a good advertisement is to entertain, inform, and alarm. According to the University of Minnesota’s Media Department, a commercial’s entertainment value is crucial to the success of the product being sold, as entertainment “[provides] an outlet for the imagination.” It goes on to say that televised ads also take on the duty of “serving as a public forum for the discussion of important issues” and “acting as a watchdog for [the] government” and other businesses. It is important that these ads are distinct and notable, otherwise, they are as good as nonexistent.

According to Marshall McLuhan, a Canadian philosopher devoted to the philosophy of media and the consumption of media, “the medium is the message.” About a century ago, the medium for media was print. Print marketing was the father figure for the silver screen, and because most people are consumers of television and/or social media, the opportunities to have one’s product displayed on a platform are endless.

Social Age

According to the University of Minnesota’s Media Department, from 2000 to 2008, internet usage grew from 50% to 75% amongst adults. The industrialization of modern marketing allows people to connect via a web of information, videos, and websites. With information flowing freely like a broken tap, it’s more likely than not to run into unwanted information.

Inappropriate, burdensome, or just plain random ads are easy to run into while trying to reach one’s virtual destination. Pop-up ads are shown everywhere and don’t ever seem to go away. Like a stalker to its prey, pop-up ads pester viewers until they must click to move on to the next website.

They must click to open a new browser. They must click to verify their information. They must click, click, click, click.

This media tactic is called Web traffic. However, it’s not just consistent pop-up ads that vex consumers, it’s also the endless chain of tweets, TikTok trends, and Instagram scandals. “Oh, I heard that so and so” this, “Well, so and so” did that. It’s impossible to run from the grip social media has on impressionable minds because word of mouth and curiosity always seem to outrace you.

According to Openmind BBVA, the premiere of the final episode of the television drama Breaking Bad garnered over 100,000 tweets, a clear indication of the popularity of the series. When television shows and other forms of media increase in popularity on social networking sites, their overall popularity increases as well. It’s like word of mouth, but via screen.

It’d be easier said than done to just go offline, put the phone down, and just leave that online alter ego to die. To be frank, that’s probably the mindset most young people have when they attempt to let go of the technological chains they are in. But when you are forced to survive in an environment that worships what you can’t see, but, rather, what you can share, like, comment, and subscribe to, it makes letting go of bad habits much harder. In turn, advertising things that the average human, willingly, didn’t intend to see.


Censorship is an age-old idea intended to limit the consummation of inappropriate or disrespectful images. Censorship traces back to ancient Rome as it was in place in response to ideas that violated the moral code of what was considered acceptable at the time. These days, with the lack of censorship, self-censorship and regulation are imperative to maintain some sort of modest media.

But like most things, it’s a lot easier to do what you’re not supposed to do versus what you should. Most ads would rather get straight to the point than waste time on pleasantries.

Most pre-1960s ads were considered appropriate and conscious of young viewers, for the time, at least. At that time, though, ads for cigarettes and alcohol were common fixtures on the mantel of television, but, by 1970, such ads were being removed from the airwaves.

Children’s programs such as the Flintstones had to remove their cigarette promotions as they were believed to push harmful images into young minds. Ads like “Jesus Hates Obama”, “Beware the Bandito”, and “Fly Judy”, often to widespread agreement, were removed from television for mass dismay or disapproval.

However, within the last 10 years, censorship containing strong innuendo and often un-talked-about subjects has increased with hardly any repercussions. An ad that embodies this sentiment is the recent campaign funded by the CDC where they show the harmful repercussions of smoking. In one of the ads, they show the detrimental impact of smoking on Terrie H.

Terrie is shown to have lived a life where she was a pretty cheerleader who lost her way when the influence of smoking infiltrated her friend group and her household. When she was 40, she was diagnosed with oral cancer and throat cancer and had her larynx removed. Images, such as this one, are disturbing, scary, and frightening, but that’s what gets their point across. Their pushing of the envelope, along with the increasingly lenient degree of censorship, allows room for topics to be discussed in households and creates thought-provoking conversations without fear of stigmatization.

Inclusive Representation

Inclusive marketing is a marketing strategy that considers advertising in all forms. Inclusive marketing takes into consideration various underrepresented sexualities, genders, races, ethnicities, socio-economic statuses, and religious affiliations in hopes of gaining a more diverse consumer profile.

To put it in simple words, inclusive marketing is the acknowledgement that the world is made up of different people, often striving to receive the same products and treatment. According to GLAAD, “companies benefit from including LGBTQ people in advertisements, with the vast majority of non-LGBTQ consumers looking favorably upon companies that do so.” The more likely it is that a company acknowledges various backgrounds, the more successful and productive they will be.

According to the Statista Research Department, “companies that financially supported the Black Lives Matter movement were more likely to be supported by customers than those simply making a statement of support.” This, in turn, creates a culture of inclusivity in the modern age and in modern advertising. By pushing images of people that, half a century ago, would have been deemed atypical, it increases the comfortability and openness of society. This positive trend in diversity is a product of the increase in representation and the decrease in censorship in 21st century marketing.


In a time where social constructs are decided by the newer generations (Millennials and Gen Z-ers), there has been an increase in leniency regarding what can be shown on television and an increase in representation for individuals of varying backgrounds. Regardless of how one feels about the more direct, honest approach to advertising that many companies have adopted, they would be remiss to not acknowledge the positive benefits this advertising does have.

As more companies rely on these tactics to reach their target audience, more people feel properly represented and it becomes harder and harder to stop the quickly progressing train that is modern media and promotion.

Olivia C
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Writer since Jul, 2022 · 12 published articles

Olivia C is a writer from Tennessee. She is passionate about entertainment and social journalism and is incredibly grateful for the opportunity to write for The Teen Magazine.