The Armed Forces Network provides American troops, their families, and government contractors with a nice slice of the American media and entertainment from back home. But because the way the Armed Forces Radio and Television Service (AFRTS, and yes, it is pronounced like "a farts") is run, the programming needs to remain neutral, balanced, and ad-free.
AFRTS is a nonprofit enterprise owned by the U.S. government. It does not and cannot air commercials during its programs. This is to avoid looking like any company has the endorsement of or sponsorship from the Department of Defense. Television shows are created with three commercial gaps in mind and, on AFN, these get replaced with public service announcements and command information spots that are just comically bad.
(Acidevil23 | YouTube)
AFN does run PSAs from the Ad Council that are actually high-quality and are made with great care. The Ad Council is a nonprofit organization that works heavily with agencies of the U.S. Government. Because they're meant to raise awareness on non-partisan issues, they're allowed to play on AFN.
They're intended for general audiences and need to have the quality to compete against a paid advertisement. This is why troops still see ads for McGruff the Crime Dog while they're trying to catch the latest episode of Game of Thrones.
Which brings us to the most ill-received commercials: the command information spots. To put it bluntly, the top priority is to get the message across. This can range from just a Drill Instructor telling you to wear a seat belt to ads like Squeakers, The OPSEC Mouse.
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It's funny the first time, but watching the same ad every time you go to the chow hall will rot your brain. This isn't the fault of the creators: The budget just isn't there, the equipment is dated (if there at all), and deadlines are tight. A typical AFN commercial request comes down from command with little more than a call to action and a quick turnaround demand. Some of the nicer AFN commercials are made at Fort Meade, while the less-polished ones are made overseas. Both are created by civilian talent and troops with film-making aspirations.
When it comes time to create a new ad, brainstorm meetings are held to come up with something that's memorable — that's the key to all of this. It can be goofy. It can be weird. It can even be about a man in a Batman mask running around Bagram Airfield, shaking people down for breaking rules — as long as you remember the message.