family watching tv advertisement

When you’re watching TV, you might see an ad and think, “How was this approved?” Believe it or not, TV advertising is held to extremely high standards. This is why ads seen on TV are so highly trusted, as no one would want to pay a fine for an unlawful ad after they’ve already put time and money into the commercial.

TV Ads Screening Before Airing in the U.S.

 TV ads are put through a rigorous screening process, being evaluated by in-house teams, independently, and by the TV station running the ad. These eyes are looking for messaging that may be misleading, harmful, or offensive, making it unfit for broadcast.

For TV ads run in the United States, they must meet the TV screening guidelines set forth by the Federal Trade Commission. These guidelines tell advertisers what is and isn’t permitted in TV advertising and it’s necessary to make room for this confirmation process in your production timeline.

In addition to not allowing brands to advertise harmful, misleading, or official messaging, the FCC prohibits stations from broadcasting advertisements promoting cigarettes, smokeless tobacco products, or perpetuating a fraud. Federal law also prohibits obscene broadcasts and limits indecent and profane language, depending on the hour of broadcasting. Other advertisements may also have to follow guidelines set forth by other federal agencies, like the Food and Drug Administration.

Now, you may pass all the rules and regulations with flying colors, but the FCC offers consumers ways to voice their concerns about media and the appropriateness of advertisements by being able to file informal complaints.  

The guidelines don’t stop there – we can’t forget about the TV ratings system. President Bill Clinton passed the Telecommunications Act of 1996 to put the onus on the entertainment industry to properly rate television programming to give parents information about the content in a particular program. This voluntary rating system gives showrunners six ratings categories to place their programs in: TV-Y, TV-Y7, TV-G, TV-PG, TV-14, and TV-MA.

  •   TV-Y
    • This rating is designed to be appropriate for all children. The elements depicted in these programs are specifically created for a very young audience, including children from ages 2 to 6.
  •     TV-Y7
    • This rating is designed for children aged 7 and above. TV-Y7 programs that are given the “FV” content descriptor show more ‘fantasy violence and can be more intense or combative than other programs rated TV-Y7.
  •   TV-G
    • Most parents will find programs with this rating suitable for all ages.
  • TV-PG
    • PG stands for “parental guidance” and programs with this rating typically contain material parents may find unsuitable for younger children and parental guidance is suggested.
  • TV-14
    • This content rating means the program contains material that many parents would find unsuitable for children under 14 years of age.
  • TV-MA
    • This content rating specifies the program should be viewed by adults and may be unsuitable for children under 17.

Not only are TV advertisements checked before being shown, but there are multiple steps taken to ensure both entertainment and advertising are suitable to a broad audience.

Who Controls Ads on TV?

Now, we know what you’re thinking. One person’s definition of appropriate may be different from another person’s definition. The important people in these decision-making positions do their best to ensure suitable content is being broadcast across our television screens.

The FCC holds broadcasters accountable for the content airing on their stations and are expected to act with reasonable care to the community they serve to make sure advertisements aired are appropriate for their audience and not false or misleading.

How Credible is TV Advertising?

While many are becoming skeptical of online ads full of clickbait, scams, and “fake news,” TV advertising still remains a trusted medium. Research shows TV outranks other traditional channels like radio for perceived trustworthiness, with one study showing 80% of consumers trusting TV ads to make major purchasing decisions. Compare that number to 61% for searching engines and 25% for online ad pop-ups.

Why do we continue to trust TV ads over other media?

The network standards advertisers must follow keep brands from simply launching an ad and saying whatever it wants.

The federal and station-based fact-checking process that goes into approving an ad creates a sense of credibility for consumers, knowing brands have to be truthful and clear with their messaging when it comes to TV advertising. 

Brands invest a lot of time and money into writing, strategy, production, resources, and meeting the necessary regulations when creating television ads. Why would a brand invest so much time, money, and effort on something that might not be worth it? 

On the topic of money, TV advertising can get pricey quickly. We’ve all heard the talk about how expensive spots are during a certain football game in February, but even without trying to land a commercial slot during the biggest advertising event of the year, regular TV advertising isn’t cheap. In the consumers’ eyes, the price tag often means a quality brand is investing wisely and is successful enough to afford the airtime.

America’s Still Believe TV Delivers on Trustworthy Media 

In closing, since late 1920, TV has been booming and has showcased some of the most impactful moments in politics, pop culture, social movements, and entertainment. 

And even with the use of social media, apps, and smartphones, the trust and dedication to watching television still remains strong.

Take a look at the facts yourself! The 2023 TVB Media Comparisons Study has a handful of exciting findings, for example, Americans on average spend 5 and half hours watching broadcast or cable TV daily. Broadcast TV still has the highest reach among platforms – higher than social media, email, radio, and streaming audio. Local broadcast and local news were found to be the most trustworthy platforms. Ads that align with trustworthy content add credibility to a brand and its products and/or services. TV ads are the most influential medium in purchasing decisions and motivate consumers to research a product or service online more than other platforms.

Lastly, TV entertainment and advertising has been a staple in American culture for over a century and trust us when we say, people are still as glued to their screens as they were nearly 100 years ago. And we don’t see anything changing 100 more years down the line!


Is TV advertising more trustworthy than social media ads?

When you compare the consumer perceptions of trustworthiness of television and social media advertising, there is a stark difference between the two. 

TV advertising has been established for decades and ads must adhere to strict guidelines and regulations put forth by federal agencies. Social media, however, is a new advertising medium and is not subject to the same level of regulation. The longstanding presence of television ads and the regulatory expectations help consumers perceive TV as a more trustworthy platform for advertising.

Are there laws limiting material that stations can broadcast?

Stations are prohibited from airing content that advertises cigarettes, smokeless tobacco products, or perpetuates a fraud. 

Additionally, federal laws prohibit obscene language, and limit indecent or profane language based on the hours of the broadcast. Some ads may also not be aired if they violate regulations set forth by the Food and Drug Administration or the Federal Trade Commission.

What can I do if I think an ad is false or misleading?

If you believe an ad is false or misleading, you can file an informal complaint with the Federal Communications Commission or report consumer fraud to the FTC.

Who can I report inappropriate tv advertising to?

You can report inappropriate TV advertising to the FCC or the FTC. 

If you believe the ad is inappropriate due to it being obscene, misleading, false, or indecent, informal complaint with the Federal Communications Commission. If it is inappropriate due to potential consumer fraud, report it to the FTC.

Does filing an FCC complaint do anything?

According to the FCC website, it states, “We do not resolve individual complaints on these issues, and you will not receive status emails about your complaint. 

However, the collective data we receive helps us keep a pulse on what consumers are experiencing, may lead to investigations and serves as a deterrent to the companies we regulate.”

Is there a way to find out what ads are playing on each tv channel at all times?

Unfortunately, no, there is not.

Each channel or TV station is in charge of their programs and ads, and each station’s process of selling ads and scheduling content is unique to them. This data is proprietary and having it available would open it up to their competitors.

How do TV advertisers know who is watching certain TV programs?

Nielsen’s rating system has been helping TV advertisers gather data on viewer numbers since the 1970s. 

The Nielsen rating system calculates the percentage of their panel that watched a single given program and reports its findings as a number. If a TV program reports getting a 9.6 Nielsen rating, it estimates that 9.6% of American households tuned into the program based on the panel.

Are TV ads based on browsing history?

The TV commercials you see can be tailored based on your online activity. 

This is called targeted advertising. It uses data from your online behavior, like search history or website visits, to personalize the ads you see on TV. Some of the methods used to collect this data are cookies and tracking pixels. 

Why do TV commercials still exist?

TV advertising still remains one of the most trustworthy media for informed purchasing decisions and continues to be a top way for businesses to cut through the advertising clutter. 

Undoubtedly, TV advertising allows you to reach local audiences, build credibility, get people to your website, and create brand awareness.

Sources: FCC & FTC. 

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