One of the blogs I follow today reported that water consumption went up dramatically during the end of the second and third periods of the U.S./Canadian hockey game held during the recent winter Olympics. What they were referring to is the proverbial bathroom break. The idea that people use commercial breaks to do things other than watch the commercials is not new. Other researchers have provided similar evidence of such activities during football games in the United States, attributable mostly to beer consumption. Such activities are what I call “routine practices” surrounding media consumption, including bathroom breaks, making phone calls, texting, shifting to another medium while multitasking, or talking to friends or family members in the room, among other social practices.
Other things we do while the commercials are on include thinking, daydreaming, or fantasizing. Think, daydream or fantasize about what? Other things. In my book Advertising in Everyday Life, I write about the kinds of thoughts we have when we consume advertising, mainly thinking about the past (memories) or anticipating the future. There are elements of advertisements (visual, verbal or textual) that serve as cues, sending viewers off to what I like to refer to as “never-never land.”
All of these activities—thinking, talking, texting, etc.—comprise the ritualistic practices of media consumption. It is in this way that consumers are to some extent empowered to do what they want with and through their media experiences. What consumers want doesn’t always go along with what the advertiser desires, which is to have consumers pay close attention to the advertisements. While consumers develop elaborate social practices as a part of their media rituals, advertisers attempt to seek newer ways to contain and control them. This is what I call the “cat and mouse” game between consumers and advertisers. And, with new media coming online, meaning more distractions and the development of additional practices, the system grows in complexity.
It is difficult for some people to get in touch with their thoughts while they are consuming media, but if one practices, over time the skill can be acquired. It’s an interesting exercise through which we learn much about media rituals and about ourselves.