Social media companies: Facebook, Amazon, Google and such, gather up so much of the free information that we give them about ourselves as we use their services that they can sort us into target groups and “sell us” to companies that want to focus ads in our direction. This data was used to sway an American presidential election in 2016, and a mayoral election in Taiwan’s 3rd largest city in 2018 that led to the winner there becoming a major party’s presidential candidate for 2020.
Television advertising is similarly aimed at the audiences that specific programs draw. During the years that re-runs of CSI (the original and the Miami and New York spin-offs) ran on cable TV in Taiwan, they were very popular. It mystified me how many “Bra ads” ran during the commercial breaks until I learned that CSI was very popular with young single women. In America, programs that draw large audiences of senior citizens carry ads for diabetes and incontinence products. This makes sense.
Apart from watching election returns on January 11th, I didn’t watch much TV at all during the 15 days I spent there. I’d estimate that election night programs found a lot of people watching. All four “terrestrial networks” broadcast nothing else. But they did not broadcast for free. Ads punctuated the reports of the returns, and many were for medicines. Not the American kind of ads, which often advise people to “Ask your doctor about Whamazam. It may be right for you.” Taiwan medicine ads are for tonics and things people buy over the counter to give them greater vitality or aid their digestion.
On election eve, the networks carried the closing rallies held by each of the 3 candidates running for president. The last one scheduled was by the incumbent president. I found it mildly disconcerting when the station I was watching, one that is ideologically tilted in her party’s direction, cut off the end of her speech to go to an ad for Scotch Whisky followed by one for a stomach remedy.
Yes, somebody has to pay for the fine programming that we receive on the commercial airwaves and through the cables. I’m thankful that I haven’t yet needed “whamazam” or any of the patent medicines seen on TV. Not yet, at least.
David Alexander now resides in Holland, MI after 39 years in Taiwan.