Super Bowl can’t undo AFN’s commercial ban
February 1, 2009
All day, TV viewers shuttle past them, flip through them, dash to the kitchen to grab a snack during them. Some even use the precious seconds, which advertisers pay dearly for, to relieve themselves.
But military men and women know a longing that people back home couldn’t fathom.
"I actually miss commercials," said Army Spc. Tony Wright, stationed in Baumholder, Germany.
No day bears that out more than the day of the Super Bowl, when commercials take center stage and are talked about as much, sometimes more, than the game in between.
"It’s hard over here to watch the game," Wright said. "You want to see the best parts, and commercials are a part of that."
Col. Scott Malcom, commander of American Forces Network Europe, said AFN can’t air commercials during the Super Bowl because they are given the stateside programming free, and if they were to air the commercials they would have to pay for the game.
But couldn’t commercials also come free?
"The Department of Defense doesn’t promote commercial products," he said.
"I have a mission to provide command information, just like [others] have a mission to take care of their Humvees. We try to be as entertaining and as informative as possible, but we also have to serve the client."
That means AFN must fill all the would-be commercial air time on nine different channels, around the clock, including those precious Super Bowl minutes, with service messages that are not always as enjoyable as Cindy Crawford guzzling a Pepsi or the popular Budweiser frogs.
Dan Robinson, AFN Europe’s chief of command information, said the network has about 300 global spots—that promote the different branches, regional spots that carry command messages such as vigilance against terrorism, and local ones about base issues such aS sexual harassment and how to navigate problems in foreign countries. Global spots and some of the regional ones are done by professional advertising companies. The local announcements are shot and edited by servicemembers, and are a minor part of a job that also includes hosting radio shows and producing news segments.
Sometimes, though, there is message redundancy.
"I hear about the repetition," Malcom said. "But I think everybody understands it’s a challenge to come up with different ways to say ‘don’t drink and drive.’ "
Robinson said he pulls antiquated spots out of the rotation, and works to ensure that a spot is not running too often as was the case, he acknowledged, with some recent anti-sexual-harassment ads.
"If it grates on the viewers’ nerves," he said, "then it likely grates on my nerves, too."
For some soldiers, though, that provides little relief.
"The God commercials get on my nerves," said Spc. Michael Garibay, of Baumholder. "They’re not supposed to enforce any religion on you."
Malcom said the spots are vetted by U.S. Army Europe chaplains and are meant as a way to provide hope and encouragement to military members who might be under stress.
"And if you are having problems, reminding you that you can go see the chaplain," he said.
Other soldiers said they felt message burnout and would rather avoid the military when enjoying television.
"I’m motivated enough," said a first sergeant who asked to remain anonymous, fearing his comments might get him in trouble with superiors. "I don’t need TV to tell me that."
Some spots, though, become favorites, such as the "Combat-go-to-guy" heard on radio.
Malcom said AFN welcomes suggestions from viewers about how they can improve their spots, or any of their programming. And for those who just can’t stand the redundant messages, Robinson said he believes a digital video recorder would allow people to skip past them.
That doesn’t help those who yearn for stateside commercials. And why, exactly, do people miss that stuff?
"Most of the time they’re funny," said Spc. Carlos Torres. "I haven’t laughed at a good commercial in a long time."