People love to complain about TV advertisements — too many, too loud, too crude.

So how come The Gruen Transfer on ABC TV (Wednesday nights at 9pm) is rating its socks off?

You have to congratulate Andrew Denton on a great concept.

Who would have thought that a program celebrating the marketing genius behind those annoying program interruptions would actually be so appealing to so many people?

And how did he get the ABC to buy a program that is crammed with ads, marketing messages and commercial logos?

It’s possible the ABC thinks this thinly-disguised (as comedy) celebration of the advertising industry is actually a damning critique.

ABC Managing Director Mark Scott has said he believed the ABC’s ad-free (well, relatively speaking) environment was ideal for the new show: “We can enter this space because we aren’t owned by any advertiser, but the Australian people.”

Who is he kidding? And what ‘space’ is talking about? (Dear Mark, please use English).

There are no critics of advertising on this program. No advocates of more controls or higher standards. No-one arguing that advertising damages society. There are no devotees of Vance Packard (The Hidden Persuaders), Noam Chomsky (Manufacturing Consent) or Clive Hamilton (Affluenza).

Of course, Denton knows that a serious and thoughtful program about advertising would be boring. Instead he opted for a glib, faux critical approach that keeps the laughs coming.

Mark Scott doesn’t seem to have been let in on the joke.

We are modestly amused, not shocked or concerned, as the show’s panel reveals the many oh-so clever strategies and techniques they use to get us to buy their clients’ stuff.

The cynicism and amorality of advertising is very much on display. The panel discussions are littered with the same superficialities, s-xual innuendos and sexism that are used to make their ads, in the words of one panelist, “fun and interesting.”

The show’s industry representatives are never guilty of underestimating the importance of what they do. One panel regular equated the big beer ad with the JFK assassination: “everyone knows where they were when they first saw it.”

Nevertheless, ABC Managing Director Mark Scott also reckoned that advertisers would be nervous at being “carved up” on the ABC. Dear Mark, news flash, no-one is getting carved up.

It’s more likely that the advertisers who get the star treatment on The Gruen Transfer, and there’s a lot of them, will be extremely happy about getting their messages in front of a million-plus ABC viewers, for free.

Scott should watch the program and ask himself why the ABC is promoting the advertising industry.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey