If you watched every second of the NFL playoffs, from kickoff to the final whistle, you really didn't watch all that much football.
This isn't an entirely new revelation, of course. Ever since The Wall Street Journal's infamous 11 minutes of football per game study, most fans have been acutely aware of just how little football they get per NFL telecast.
Baseball suffers the reputation as the slow-moving game that takes an interminable time between each pitch, but between huddles, replays, possession changes, television timeouts, and everything else that happens between three seconds of a running back charging up the middle, football has just as much downtime.
Does it matter? Not at all. Fans continue to push the viewership needle to new heights.
In some cases, fans even make light of this imbalance, taking to Twitter and making sarcastic joke after sarcastic joke -- it is Twitter, after all -- ridiculing the two most abundant time-fillers of an NFL telecast: the announcers and commercials.
Just how many commercials are there during an NFL playoff telecast? During the 10 playoff games aired this January, there were a total of 1,120 commercials broadcast between the opening kickoff and the final whistle, or an average of 112 commercials per game.
We tend to think of NFL broadcasts as mostly beer and erectile dysfunction ads. When I broke down the data, I was surprised to learn this was not the case. In particular, there were a mere seven ads to get the tingle back in your jingle.
If you've ever wondered why networks are willing to pay billions of dollars for NFL rights packages, the above chart provides some insight. With all those eyeballs, each network inundates us with promotional ads for their shows. CBS reminds viewers that they're "America's most watched network" virtually every commercial break while paradoxically previewing shows I'm not sure anyone under 40 watches. Meanwhile, Fox reminds you over and over that they're the network with American Idol and, if you've always wanted to watch Greg Kinnear get a tooth sexily ripped out with a pair of pliers, you needn't look any further. NBC's promos solely consisted of the words OLYMPICS flashing across the screen at rates just below the epileptic threshold.
Perhaps unsurprisingly upon reflection, ads for technological products (consumer electronics, internet/cable services, etc.) were just as frequent as network promotions. Given that many network promos were relatively short, we spent more time watching ads for technological products than any other category. This was especially true once Apple unveiled their iPad Air commercial, in which some marketing lackey had a dream Dead Poet's Society was directed by Terrence Malick and pitched the idea.
Also, there were pick-up truck ads. Lots of pick-up truck ads. You need a new pick-up truck, right? No, don't even bother answering. You definitely need a new pick-up truck. The only question is which one. If I learned anything from NFL Playoff commercials, it's exactly which type of MEN buy which type of TRUCK. Here's my quick guide:
This slate of commercials made me lose faith in two aspects of American life in particular: the American concept of manliness (see above) and our dietary habits. Of the 132 commercials for food and non-alcoholic beverages during the NFL playoffs, all but 14 were for one of the following: Burger King, Checkers, Dominos, Dr. Pepper, Dunkin' Donuts, KFC, McDonalds, Papa John's, Pepsi, Pizza Hut, Subway, Taco Bell, and Wendy's. We have the worst damn taste, particularly in pizza.
Finally we get to the beer. Shockingly, beer commercials were only 8 percent of all commercials, but Bud Light -- the official beer of the NFL, because of course -- comprised over half of those spots. This is unfortunate because Bud Light commercials are the lowest form of human expression other than actually drinking Bud Light.
The only other category with more than five percent was insurance ads which, since I felt like there were approximately 12 trillion insurance commercials, provides some perspective of just how many damn commercials there are during NFL broadcasts. If I had to watch Aaron Rodgers' shoulder get nibbled on by an overweight, mustachioed Bears fan dreaming about receiving a massage from a former football coach I was going to experience a nontrivial mental breakdown. (Seriously, read that description again. That's a real ad. For insurance.)
Let's talk about which companies are to blame for inundating us with an absurd number of commercials for a mostly overlapping audience over the course of three consecutive weeks.
Good ol' Verizon, wanting to make sure you know their products can provide you an absurd wig so you can pretend to be a rockstar, if that's your thing. Verizon was the only company to top the 50 ad mark. I would love to know what market research they had that concluded 50 commercials would result in millions of people switching to their company. Incidentally, I would like to berate that person for the mental anguish they have caused me.
The NFL has their fair share of real estate on this list as well. Play 60 promotions -- in which the NFL encourages little kids to run around like idiots for an hour every day so Mommy and Daddy can get some time to themselves for God's sake -- were aired 20 times during the playoffs. Many of these ads -- which, remember, are trying to get kids to be active -- featured a small child standing perfectly still while taunting Cam Newton. That kid is such a poor sport, trash-talking Cam Newton when all Cam was trying to do was help. Why is the NFL featuring an ad about a trash-talking, pompous, annoying punk?
You might notice right between Nationwide and DirecTV is something called "Intelligence". These were CBS promos for their new show, Intelligence, whose story seems to be as follows: the NSA's archives are implanted into a single person who can access all that information as a force for good. Unfortunately, we mere mortals do not have this capacity for hyper-intelligent recall, so CBS had to remind us 12 times to watch the show.
I would like to nominate Nissan for the two most inexplicable and confounding commercials of any company.
1) A woman drives an SUV off of a ramp onto a train -- the resulting impact only slightly messes up her hair, to which she flicks her head to correct -- then immediately drives off the train onto some kind of a roof, to which she somehow instantaneously appears in a parking spot in the middle of an open lot, not a roof in the area to be found. The continuity errors abound, not the least of which is the nagging question: if the train was so much quicker, why not just take the train rather than navigating an incredibly risky maneuver to mount the train with your top-heavy vehicle? As if to overcompensate for the continuity errors, the man who was expressing angst over their punctuality has his hand in the same exact same position upon arrival as prior to the train-jumping escapade:
2) the Nissan Briefcase commercial, in which some woman named Kate picks up some man with a briefcase who are then pursued in some kind of high-stakes rampage through a cityscape over the contents of said briefcase, despite nobody having any real clue what's going on (except Kate). The only thing I've gleaned from watching these two ads a combined 13 times is that Nissan really wants you to know women can be pretty crafty drivers.
This sentiment -- that I didn't want any of these products more after seeing the commercial, but had a completely unrelated reaction altogether -- held true for most of the 1,120 commercials. Do I actually want a Subway sandwich more now that Jay Glazer is telling me to get one? No, but I do feel sorry for Pele and wonder what has gone so horribly wrong in his financial life that he considered smiling and holding his hands shoulder-width apart for money a necessary and wise career move. I don't want a Dodge any more than I did two months ago, but I do want to avoid Anchorman 2 as much as possible. I will boycott State Farm until they stop showing a large, hairy man getting a massage from Mike Ditka. (Further, sausages don't work as pillows. Their texture is all wrong, and they flatten much too quickly.) I will never buy a pick-up truck, because I don't want to be like the people who believe the adage "you are what you eat" applies to your sexual orientation.
I'm sure wiser people than me have done market research and compiled neatly bound reports. I'm equally sure these reactions I'm feeling are somewhat purposeful, since I now recognize these brands and associate them with... well, something, and in the absolutist mind of the Marketer, that's better than nothing.
But when my thought process while watching a Verizon commercial for the 51st time ranges from reciting the words along with the commercial to wondering if my life carries any meaning, I'm pretty sure Verizon doesn't want me associating that level of existential introspection with their high speed internet service.
Or maybe the answer to all my worries is drinking Pepsi inside my brand new pick-up truck on my way to getting Pizza Hut for my weekly viewing of Intelligence.