The next time you're watching TV and wondering how such horrible stuff ends up on air, here's what you need to understand:
Corporations have levels. The bigger the corporation, the more levels it has.
At each level, the person making a decision is probably trying to make the best possible decision, but also has to consider his or her career. That means he or she can't very well say to the boss, "Sure, this commercial sucks, but I gave lousy direction to the ad agency and sent them down the wrong path for two weeks."
As you ascend the levels, you also acquire more responsibility. So while an individual commercial might be a high priority to the ad manager, the brand manager has to deal with the fallout from the celebrity spokesperson who has been photographed using a competitor's product and the fact that the design firm can't seem to get the color on the label right.
Ultimately, a lot of advertising happens by attrition. An air date has to be met and something needs to be shot. It can't be anything too controversial because every level not only has to present it to the level above, but explain why it's not going to cause more harm than good.
I actually had a client tell me on one shoot that he didn't want me to do anything that would make anybody notice the commercial we were working on. And no, I'm not making that up.
So next time you see something even marginally entertaining, beautiful, or compelling on air, remember: It defied the odds. It made it up the ranks of approval and didn't get eliminated in favor of something safer.
And then go buy whatever it is it's selling. Good advertising is something we want to encourage, after all.