In my post “You are what you see” I talk about the Foster’s ad that I’d seen, what seemed like, endlessly during my youth. Which prompted a little niggling curiosity in my mind. Did I actually watch this ad thousands of times?

Let’s explore.

We didn’t have smartphones. In my free time I did do a fair few enriching activities (raising poultry, archery, hiking, swimming, fishing) and some unenriching activites (Playstation, Gameboy, chatrooms). But where I grew up television was king.

Thursday nights? ER. Sunday nights? X-Files. Weekend afternoon? Family blockbuster movie. We didn’t go on “holidays” like many in Europe do, and we didn’t camp like many where I lived did. The TV was the down time and our chance to connect with the world.

This source alleges the mean number of hours of TV watched in America is around 4 hours a day. This slightly-better-looking data indicates the number is actually less for non-retirees, and is decreasing year on year for the younger folks.


Let’s just say I averaged 4.5 hours of TV per day. Though I know some days would’ve been MUCH more. This very helpful overview of the campaign indicates it ran from 1994 to 2001. Allegedly it won awards. The budget was initially $3 million a year and then $10 million a year. It seems I wouldn’t have seen it before 1997 on the lower budget.The conclusion of the ad campaign is unclear, but it appears reasonable to assume it wrapped up around 2004.


Seven years? Cool. That should be enough information to start making some inferences.

Seven years times 365 days times 4.5 hours is 11,497.5 hours of television-watching. That’s 14-28 ads per hour based on estimates. This changes based on the length of the ad - some are 5 second bumpers and others are 60 seconds long.


I would’ve watched HBO and films too. Let’s say that was a quarter of my watching (generous - probably less). And also considering time where there would never be a Foster’s commercial (Saturday morning cartoons). I think 10 qualified ads per hour of TV watched is a reasonable estimate.

Which makes us at a cool 114,975 ads. Let’s make it 115,000 because we can.

That’s….. not a lot? The upper bound (if I watched more TV and underestimated ad density) is probably around 200,000 and the lower bound I would be shocked if it’s under 100,000. The smell test estimates 45 ads a day and I tell you what I’m pretty sure I far exceeded that number some afternoons watching MTV.

So what we need is 1 Fosters ad apperance in a 100, or 1 in 50 if we want to say I saw it “thousands” of times. That’s our final question.

(That or debunk one of my estimates above to vastly increase the gross number of ads watched.)

This 2001 NYT Article hints that the ads were played heavily on Comedy Central, VH1, ESPN and also radio.


And if you remember how these ads come along, it’s not an even distribution. An afternoon of Comedy Central or Sportscenter and you might see this ad every ad break. So perhaps 12 times in a day. This would be nearly 4,000 times a year at that pace!

I watched ESPN, Comedy Central and VH1 a lot as a teen. And if you wrap in radio (~5-8 hrs a week?) - I declare this to be plausible. I’ve even been conservative enough that the true figure could be much, much higher!

I’ve watched the Foster’s ad thousands of times. Maybe you have too.