Few things are more annoying than ads that use sounds like a ringing phone or doorbell to get our attention. But an ad for Conan O'Brien's show on TBS went too far in the eyes of the Federal Communications Commission.
A tune-in ad promoting Jack Black's guest appearance in April 2012 used the sounds of the government's Emergency Alert System, earning Turner Broadcasting System a $25,000 fine from the FCC.
In a separate incident, the watchdog commission also fined WNKY in Bowling Green, Ky., which used the EAS attention signal in a local ad for The Fan Wear & More Store. The station agreed to pay a $39,000 voluntary contribution to the FCC and initiated a public education campaign to inform viewers about EAS alerts.
While both ads might have seemed like a cute ploy to draw viewer attention to the ads, the FCC took a very dim view. "It is inexcusable to trivialize the sounds specifically used to notify viewers of the dangers of an incoming tornado or to alert them to be on the lookout for a kidnapped child, merely to advertise a talk show or a clothing store," said the FCC's acting enforcement bureau chief Robert Ratcliffe. "This activity not only undermines the very purpose of a unique set of emergency alert signals, but is also a clear violation of the law."
The FCC said that there has been a recent spike in consumer complaints about the misuse of the EAS sounds or simulation of sounds, which are prohibited from use under any circumstance except for a real alert or authorized test.