TV commercials track you down

The Baltimore Sun

The ad industry is redefining "public" television.

With people fast-forwarding faster than ever through TV commercials at home, advertising companies have taken their campaigns into the open.

Perhaps you've noticed: Flat-panel screens filled with ads plugging cars, orthodontists and face-lifts are everywhere. They greet you at the grocery store, bank and service station.

Most recently they've popped up in restrooms, mounted on hand dryers.

And no, you can't change the channel. "Consumers want control," said Eli Portnoy, founder of the Portnoy Group, a brand strategy consultant. So naturally, "Marketers are trying to wrestle control away."

It's another round in the cat-and-mouse game between Americans with disposable income and the advertisers desperate to reach them, now that the digital video recorder has become so popular.

An estimated 20 percent of U.S. households have DVRs, which allow program-watching at the expense of ads, because ads can be zipped through with the simple pressure of a finger on a button.

Some people are buying it. But ad omnipresence is pushing others over the edge.

"I'm just so overwhelmed by it," said Kendra Miller, a 26-year-old business manager who felt assaulted by a flat-panel TV staring down at her from the wall of a grocery store in Culver City, Calif., as she was getting ready to check out.

Miller is a person the industry wants to reach. She has stopped going to movie theaters because she can't stand the ads they run before the film starts. Pop-up Web ads pester her at work - and now, as annoying, she's got TV commercials in her supermarket. "They put them in places you can't escape."

Alana Semuels writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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