Do TV Commercials Still Make a Marketing Impact?

Do TV Commercials Still Make a Marketing Impact?

Commercials: In a world of DVR, do they still work? Do they still have the power to persuade, engage and awe us? As we see with the Super Bowl every year, the answer is a resounding yes. In fact, when you add in the reach of online video and social media, commercials actually have greater value than ever before.

In a recent episode of our MONSTERS marketing podcast, Speaking Human, we reviewed a trio of new TV commercials. This discussion reminded us why commercials still make an impact. Like all entertainment or pop culture, they invoke a response. They give us something to talk about, which in the big marketing picture can provide brands greater consumer resonance.

At their best, commercials can surprise and enlighten; even make us see a brand in a new way. At their worst, commercials can be a big brand turnoff (Progressive’s Flo commercials have almost annoyed me enough to switch my insurance company). For better or worse, commercials still have that power.

Two Takes on Three Commercials from Big Brands

As shared in our recent podcast, here are two sets of thoughts and opinions on TV commercials from General Electric (GE), Apple and Planet Fitness. Check out these commercials and share your own thoughts by commenting below.

GE’s Brilliant Machines Bring the Robots

In this commercial for General Electric (GE), we see robots of all shapes and sizes being drawn by a mysterious force. These robots include some famous “faces”—including K.I.T.T. from Knight Rider, Robby the Robot from Forbidden Planet, Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation and one robot that looks somewhat similar to Johnny 5 from Short Circuit. In the end, they all arrive at the same place to see the brilliant machines GE is creating.

Take 1
Made for us 80s kids, this commercial will tug on the heartstrings on any sci-fi nerd. Beyond the immediate recognition of these characters, this commercial also does a great job communicating GE’s message: They are building intelligent machines that will change the way we live. They’re trying to reinforce their brand again for a generation that doesn’t generally think of GE as brilliant machines. And for the most part, they succeed.

Take 2
When I think of GE, I think of an outdated brand. I definitely don’t think “innovation”. That’s why when they reveal at the end this is a commercial for GE, I was surprised. This commercial really worked for me. The whole thing was epic—with polished images, perfect music and robot nostalgia. It hooked me from the get go and they pull it together perfectly with the message in the end. May have actually changed my perception of GE a little bit.

Watch the GE Brilliant Machines Commercial Now

Apple’s Strange Dreams of Venus & Serena

This commercial from Apple is similar to a lot of their traditional commercials where they use the all-white background. Set from the vantage point of the viewer, it appears you are playing Ping-Pong against tennis champions Venus and Serena Williams. The narrator then chimes in to explain how this is all a great dream—and one you don’t want to interrupt. He goes on to explain the Do Not Disturb setting on your iPhone, so that people can’t wake you up.

Take 1
I thought this was one of the better Apple commercials to come along in a while. It still has the traditional product placement on the white background, but it had more depth. It didn’t just show the feature, it did so in an imaginative way. I think this hits home with a lot of people: You’re in that nice, relaxing dream and then your phone dings. Most of us can relate to that. So, you’re eliciting that emotion from people. It’s a simple concept with an effective execution.

Take 2
Usually Apple commercials are pretty good at explaining why these individual product features are valuable—but not this one. I thought the execution here was flawed. It uses celebrity faces for no real purpose, and the way they choose to explain the technology was not very effective. All this commercial did was make me think of a million other ways they could’ve presented this feature that would have been more interesting, entertaining and effective.

Watch the Apple iPhone 5 Dream Commercial Now

Plant Fitness’ Working Out Without the Weirdos

This series of ads from Planet Fitness shows average Joes and Janes at the gym encountering strange and off-putting people called “lunks”. In one commercial, a woman watches in horror as women in the locker room talk about how hot they are—repeating the word “hot” to an absurd degree. In another commercial, a man in the locker room furrows his brow as a guy repeatedly talks about feeling the burn. Here, “burn” is the new hot. Both commercials end with our protagonists going to Planet Fitness, a safe haven from lunks.

Take 1
I think the fact these commercials tackle the gym intimidation factor head on is a great way to recruit new members. A lot of the intimidation people have with gyms comes from the fact they don’t want to deal with obnoxious “gym people”. While the commercials personify the intimidation factor to great effect, I do feel a little grossed out when I watch them. The visualizations of these characters actually kind of sicken me. Not completely sure if that’s a good or bad thing.

Take 2
I thought these commercials did a great job of positioning Planet Fitness. There are a lot of gyms out there and it’s hard to differentiate them. The commercials clearly show us this is a gym for the average folks out there. It’s a smart way to define themselves, and a good market niche to fill. I think there’s a big audience that message will appeal to. I like the whole “sound the alarm on lunks” concept and tagline. All in all, great commercials and a great campaign.

Watch the Planet Fitness “Hot” Commercial Now

Watch the Planet Fitness “Burn” Commercial Now

Hear our discussion of these commercials in its entirety—listen to Episode #13 of the Speaking Human podcast on iTunes.


  1. Television commercials are an annoyance. I realize that companies pay big bucks for them because some pinhead ad exec sold them on the idea…for most of the television watchers that I know, they are a pain. THANK GOD for DVR, I can record and just fast forward past them. An even better option is Netflix…totally commercial free, and a great bargain too!

    • I think most people share your sentiments, Mike — but not as much as they did 10 years ago. Now, with DVR and Netflix, people have the option of skipping commercials. That’s made them less annoying to the consumer, while also making companies work harder to create humorous and engaging commercials. It’s win-win for both sides. As a result, many consumers are actually seeking out funny and entertaining videos online by the millions. Thanks to technology, the role and consumption of commercials has changed.

  2. I have to agree with the first comment with Mike.Commercials any shape or form are Never entertaining.If I want the damn product I’ll buy it not because a commercial told me too.In fact I’m less likely to buy the product if it was advertised to death or annoying.
    As far as I’m concerned tv commercials are a waste of brain power coming up with them.I can think of better ways of being creative.
    I put in my earplugs or block them with my dvr as well.I never want them a part of my life EVER.

  3. As a person diagnosed with Aspergers {A form of autism} {this is just me I’m not trying to generalize}.I didn’t mean to sound mean up there in my comment but commercials of any kind physically hurt my eyes and ears.
    All I hear commercials as are noise in more ways than one.They make no sense, all that crazy social stuff going on in the commercials.They move fast flash loud and are one of the sources of overstimulation for me.So commercials waste their time on me and I’m happy they do.
    I try to block them out with my mind,earplugs,music,dvr whatever it takes to protect myself from meltdown.
    To me they’re just a tangled mess visually, like a giant pileup of cars with no cause for the being like that.

    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Lynn. I think a whole lot of people share your opinion on commercials. To some they’ve become entertainment, and to others (like yourself) they remain an annoyance. I also think many individuals—both with and without Aspergers—would agree that with their increased volume and attempts to visually grab viewer attention, commercials are incredibly overstimulating.


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