Primetime TV Ads Feature an Unusually High Number of Redheads

Primetime TV advertising features a disproportionately high number of redheads, a new study reveals.

Thirty percent of network TV ads during peak viewing hours include someone with red hair (33 percent if you exclude ads with no people), even though natural redheads only make up 1 to 2 percent of the world's population and 2 to 6 percent of the U.S. population, media analysis firm Upstream Analysis found, according to its president Janet Harris' column for The Huffington Post.

Furthermore, 11 percent of the people in the TV ads examined in the study were redheads (761 out of 7,122), and 56 percent of ads with redheads featured them as main characters. Adult women with red hair appeared twice as often as their male counterparts, but redheaded boys were more common than redheaded girls.

So why are primetime TV viewers seeing red? Explanations vary. Some speculate its because they photograph well. But others point to research that shows the color red increases heart rate, stimulates appetite and is associated with intense emotions and sexual attraction. There's also research that shows humans respond to novelty, like a rare redhead, in a way that "motivates the brain to explore, seeking a reward."

The study notes that further studies are needed to determine if there are now so many redheads in commercials that they're no longer a novelty there.

Upstream worked with real-time TV monitoring service Critical Mention to examine 1,709 ads during 60 hours or five evenings of primetime TV (8 to 11 p.m.) from mid-April to late June on ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC. Some ads that included one or more redheads aired in heavy rotation, with 10 commercials, including three Verizon ads, accounting for 34 percent of the redheads in primetime TV ads.

Which network showed viewers the most ads with redheads? CBS, which averaged one redhead every 106 seconds, followed by ABC, Fox and NBC.

The study excluded in-program ads and product placements, local and regional ads, people filmed in black and white and movie and TV show spots, including montages from movies and TV shows in ads for services such as Netflix and Google Play.

Upstream also only counted humans and animated representations of humans with red hair; they didn't include animals or the Muppet "Animal," featured in the recent Toyota Highlander commercials.

But Upstream did note that there are seven Muppets with red "hair" in those ads: Animal, Beaker, Clifford, Dr. Teeth, Pepe the King Prawn, Scooter and Sgt. Floyd Pepper&mdashthe same as the number of nonredheaded Muppets featured.