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Recession TV: Topsy Turvy Tomato Planter ads rule

It was the repeated play of TV ads for the Topsy Turvy Upside Down Tomato Planter that finally drove the point home: The recession is changing the look of TV advertising these days -- and not for the better.

It has been going on for months (Snuggie ads were all the rage around Christmas), but I was in denial. The moment when I could longer deny reality came for me Sunday during CBS coverage of professional golf from the Quail Hollow Country Club. There were Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and most of the other big hitters on the course, but during the commercial breaks instead of ads for luxury cars, investment advisers and life insurance -- the long-time staples of Sunday afternoon network golf targeting older affluent men -- there were spots for this goofy-looking tomato contraption.

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And not only that. The other ads were for such products as the one-time-only collected "hits" of Elvis Presley's gospel recordings and Time-Life's classical music library guaranteed "to help you relax."

Yikes, I thought, this is late-night, History-Channel, Hitler's-last-days, basic-cable advertising -- not high-end, CBS, PGA golf. But, of course, General Motors can't afford to have Tigers Woods as a spokeman for Buick any more -- or buy huge blocs of network time. And would we want them to be using the tax payer bailouts to do that any way? But, upside down tomato planters.

I saw so many ads for the Topsy Turvy Tomato Planter that I almost did as I was told by the insistent voice on the ad and called now. After all, I could "buy one, and get a second free" and all for the late-night, cable TV price of $19.99. And even though it looks like a vacuum cleaner bag hanging on a pole, it is supposed to grow 30 pounds of tomatoes per unit. Come the Second Great Depression...

Look, I am not mocking the product, but its ubiquitous presence on network TV tells us how the look of the medium is taking a decided turn toward the cheesy as this recession hammers advertising. Speaking on background only, a general manager at one of Baltimore's TV stations confirmed that local station managers and network sales executives are grabbing the kind of lower end ads they once ignored because the advertisers will only buy at cut-rate prices. But these days, cut-rate is better than no-rate.

Hey, everybody is doing what they can to survive. But how about you? What's your favorite Topsy Turvy, low-rent TV ad these days? And have you noticed such TV advertising popping up in places you never expected to see them?

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