Content Is Advertising; Advertising Is Content... On SNL

from the blurring-boundaries dept

If you're in any business that relies on "advertising" for revenue, you need to stop thinking of it as advertising -- and start realizing that advertising and content are the same thing. All traditional "advertising" is content -- and if you want anyone to pay attention to it, it had better be good content. At the same time, all traditional "content" is advertising -- it's just a question of what it's advertising. But as more companies recognize this, we're going to see an increasingly blurry line between advertising and content. While some purists decry this situation, they shouldn't worry so much. It will improve both the overall quality of the "content" that you see all the time in two ways: it will allow for better financing of that content and it makes sure that the formerly "bad" advertising content isn't sustainable and goes away.

Reader James Thomas sends in an example of this blurring of the lines that occurred recently with Saturday Night Live. Apparently, on the SNL the night before the Superbowl, there were three skits "MacGruber" skits (a parody of the popular classic TV show MacGyver) each of which had a totally over-the-top promotion of Pepsi. That part may seem like traditional product placement (though, oddly over the top), but the interesting part was that the next night, during the Superbowl, NBC actually showed one of those sketches during a commercial break. In other words, the sketch itself was then repurposed as "commercial" content -- thus blurring the lines completely. I'm not sure how effective this was (personally, I don't find the MacGruber skits funny at all), but it does demonstrate some of how things are changing. If you did the same thing with content that actually was enjoyable, I could see it getting a much better reaction.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    Dan, Feb 13th, 2009 @ 6:42am

    Lite beer commercials

    To prove Mike's point, I'll say that I would buy a DVD of all those Lite beer commercials from the 70s (?)

    "All the aliens that happen to look like Rodney Dangerfield; Dick Bukus and Bubba Smith playing water polo with live horses...." Classics all!

     

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  2.  
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    Petrified Jello (formerly Twinrova), Feb 13th, 2009 @ 6:59am

    AHEM!!

    While some purists decry this situation, they shouldn't worry so much.
    Wow, yet another example of how "content" is viewed more like an ad, rather than content people want to see.
    Reminds me of the Stride episode of Smallville (and yes, fans objected because of CONTENT EXPECTATIONS).

    You just don't get it, do you Mike? You can make a show as entertaining as you like, but if viewers feel they're watching an ad for a product, they're not going to remain viewers of this content for very long.

    And thus, businesses who rely on ads for revenue will be in a worse position given many viewers will assume (and rightly so) all "content" they push will be disguised advertising.

    Viewers will begin to go elsewhere to find the content they EXPECT to be there, not a damn ad pushing products on them.

    I'm glad you talked about the "blurring line". Consumers are willing to accept product placement and dismiss it as real life, but the moment the EXPECTATIONS of content begin to reflect advertising, long term failure will occur.

    You also need to take into consideration just how perceptive viewers can be. In the "Transformers" movie, many, many people spotted (damn quickly) how GM products were clearly visible, but logos to other vehicles were removed. However, the movie was a huge success and people didn't walk away feeling they just watched a nearly 2 hour commercial.

    I'm a supporter of product placement as long as:
    1) It doesn't take over the EXPECTED CONTENT
    2) It's done with a realistic placement and not "panned and scanned" to make it stand out.

    But the truth to the matter is advertising is a dying market. People are finding ways to circumvent viewing them* (regardless how good they are). And, like always, a business model that can't adapt will fail, but will push itself to incredibly annoying attempts to ensure it stays around doing nothing more than pissing of consumers.

    Just ask anyone who watches television, goes to the movies, listens to the radio, reads magazines, or visits websites (especially those who push ads=content all the while displaying banner ads).

    *AdBlock, as an example and used on this site.

     

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  3.  
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    Davis Freeberg, Feb 13th, 2009 @ 7:00am

    I don't disagree with your observation, but would point out that companies need to be careful in how they implement things like this. If you go back and watch the SNL show where they had these skits, you'll see that the crowd was laughing in the first skit. As soon as they realized it was an ad in the 2nd skit, they went absolutely silent all at once. The third skit didn't get any laughs.

     

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  4.  
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    Matt, Feb 13th, 2009 @ 7:04am

    Re: AHEM!!

    uh what? You do realize that essentially you just agreed with Mike, right?

    Basically if the content is worthless so is the advertising. The inverse is not necessarily true but it does help.

     

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  5.  
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    William, Feb 13th, 2009 @ 7:05am

    advertising as content

    I've always wondered why television game shows didn't delve more into using advertising as content. Sure they use product placement, but that just gets the name out there.

    Instead of using multiple-choice questions like "Who wants to be a Millionaire" does, why not show brief commercial clips and have the contestants answer questions about what they saw or heard. Use the right clips, those that are interesting or funny, and pick details that most people miss and it could be fun enough to encourage viewers to participate and watch intently and then remember the products or their features.

    Instead of "Beat the Banker" give-aways like "Deal or No Deal," they could encourage viewers to watch for particular commercials during the breaks and answer questions (online or via txt) after the breaks for clues to win the contests. Instead of just giving away $10,000 to one weekly winner they could give away product and coupons to hundreds.

     

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  6.  
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    william, Feb 13th, 2009 @ 7:08am

    Re: advertising as content

    please note that I'm not saying an entire show has to made up of this, but one "video question" per show or round, could be introduced without making the entire show look like a big boring advertisement.

     

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  7.  
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    Idiot Basher, Feb 13th, 2009 @ 7:18am

    Re: AHEM!!

    You, my friend, are a complete morron who is apparently ouch of touch with ACTUAL reality.

    I can name about 20 examples off the top of my head where advertisements are entertainment. People will keep copies of a program on their TIVO JUST because of the commercial.

    Mike is 100% correct. The lines are blurred. The days of "straight" advertising are at an end. The days of content advertsing are among us.

    Look at the AFLAC and Geiko commercials. Sure, we know their advertising... but we don't care, because they're funny and cute. And people point them out and stop what they're doing when they come on.

    My girlfriend has literally called me to come running into living room to see the one Geiko caveman commercial because she thought it was hilarious.

    If something is entertaining, it could be ad advertisement for a colonoscopy and we'd watch it.

    It's the dry, circa 1960's commercials that no one will watch.

    If you tell a story and make it funny and then almost add the advertisement in as an afterthought, people will still watch it.

     

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  8.  
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    kevjohn, Feb 13th, 2009 @ 7:22am

    Re:

    I'm prety sure it didn't get any laughs because it wasn't the least bit funny. I do like the MacGruber skits in general, but these three were pretty weak.

     

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  9.  
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    Norm, Feb 13th, 2009 @ 7:34am

    Re: Re: AHEM!!

    ::You, my friend, are a complete morron ::

    Misspelling moron doesn't reflect well on your mental abilities at your ad hominem attack.

     

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  10.  
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    yogi, Feb 13th, 2009 @ 7:38am

    This reminds me

    of a case in point:

    I remember reading about a graduate student (communications) from Bar Ilan University in Israel who did her thesis on the nature of the content in Israel's leading paper.

    Turns out 80% of the items in the paper were , on average, from PR firms, but disguised as news "broken" by the reporter.

    So, definitely, content is advertising and not only for tangible products but for values and policies in a variety of fields.

     

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  11.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 13th, 2009 @ 7:42am

    You make it sound like this is something new. More and more TV is really sellevision AND we still get commercials. There is not much non-ad content left. Bummer, the good stuff is all gone, replaced with ads.

     

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  12.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 13th, 2009 @ 7:46am

    Re: Re: AHEM!!

    nothing is worse than calling someone a moron and misspelling morron.

     

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  13.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 13th, 2009 @ 7:49am

    Re: Re: AHEM!!

    It does not surprise me that you are entertained by the Geiko cavemen. Were you a fan of the show? It's one step away from "Oh, My Balls" Cletus.

     

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  14.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 13th, 2009 @ 7:59am

    Re: advertising as content

    The problem with modern quiz shows is that they seem to be filler between commercials and don't have any tempo. I can't remember what show I watched, I think it was 1 vs. 100 but I'm not sure. I actually watched the episode in absolute amazement of how awful it was. So I guess they succeeded in keeping my attention though for all the wrong reasons. The most poignant aspect of the shows awfulness was the absolute mind-wrenching slow pace at which the show posed questions. I think the show was 1 hour but I only last 28 minutes and I kid you not only 4 questions into the show. There were literally 20-30 second pauses after the contestant responded and the artificial suspense was portrayed.

    Sorry I'm a little off topic but I really can't believe people watch these shows. Jeopardy FTW!!1!

     

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  15.  
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    Nathania, Feb 13th, 2009 @ 7:59am

    Another show this is happening on is Jimmy Kimmel. His aren't always funny either, but they do seem to be getting better.

     

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  16.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 13th, 2009 @ 8:17am

    Another issue with advertising is the mindless repetition. If you see a cute commercial, you're going to see it another 50,000 times before they pull it.

    If you had a short serial ad from 30-90 seconds (always in the first break of the same show), you'd have people tuning in to see just the ad. We've seen amateur content in this timeframe succeed on Youtube over and over again.

    I can't be expected to believe that a company with a budget can't release interesting advertising each week along with a show. It could even tie into the show and feature their characters.

    The ad would be fresh weekly and if the content was interesting, people would enjoy the sales pitch. More scarce employment opportunities for actors and scriptwriters.

     

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  17.  
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    Mike4, Feb 13th, 2009 @ 8:50am

    They were commercials - not skits

    That part may seem like traditional product placement (though, oddly over the top), but the interesting part was that the next night, during the Superbowl, NBC actually showed one of those sketches during a commercial break. In other words, the sketch itself was then repurposed as "commercial" content -- thus blurring the lines completely.

    Mike, I'm a fan of yours and love reading your blogs, but this excerpt is just absolutely wrong. It's clear that nobody who's posted in here actually saw the episode of SNL the night before the Super Bowl, so I wanted to clear up any confusion.

    The "MacGruber" skits were actually commercials that aired during the commercial breaks. I'm not sure why one of the readers said the crowd was laughing in the first one (maybe it was just him and his friends in the room), but there is no sound from the audience during commercials. When the first one aired, I thought it was just a skit too, but was confused because it aired after the first commercial that followed the monologue, and then another commercial aired right after it. Normal skits on SNL don't just appear smack dab in the middle of commercial breaks (though this does happen on other shows, like The Soup).

    The 2nd and 3rd commercials that aired were also sandwiched in the middle of later commercial breaks, so these were intentionally created as commercials that are based on the skits.

    When I saw these, I assumed I was seeing some Super Bowl commercials a little early and was really surprised when they only aired one of them.

    Mike, you make it sound as if someone at NBC saw the skits on SNL and decided "Hey - let's just show that during the Super Bowl tomorrow. Let me grab $3 million real quick." If anyone saw these the night before and thought they were just normal skits with all that Pepsi talk, they need their head examined. As I said, I don't believe anyone actually saw the show and saw how these commercials were aired.

     

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  18.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 13th, 2009 @ 8:52am

    Re: advertising as content

    Isn't The Price is Right just one long ad for as many products as they can fit into their games?

     

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  19.  
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    Petrified Jello, Feb 13th, 2009 @ 9:01am

    Re: Re: AHEM!!

    uh what? You do realize that essentially you just agreed with Mike, right?
    Only to a degree, but if you actually read my post, you will see this "blurring" will only lead to failure.

     

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  20.  
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    Petrified Jello, Feb 13th, 2009 @ 9:46am

    Re: Re: AHEM!!

    You, my friend, are a complete morron
    I take it, Idiot Basher, you constantly bash yourself? This should explain the misspelling of "moron".

    I can name about 20 examples off the top of my head where advertisements are entertainment. People will keep copies of a program on their TIVO JUST because of the commercial.
    I didn't say people wouldn't watch ads, but clearly you only read the first two paragraphs before replying.

    Mike is 100% correct. The lines are blurred. The days of "straight" advertising are at an end. The days of content advertsing are among us.
    I didn't say he was wrong, now did I? Try reading more than the first two paragraphs before replying.

    Look at the AFLAC and Geiko commercials. Sure, we know their advertising... but we don't care, because they're funny and cute. And people point them out and stop what they're doing when they come on.
    Sure, once or twice, but after that, the consumer becomes annoyed with them when they're trying to view the content they tuned into in the first place.

    I'm glad you mentioned GEICO (although you misspelled that too). ABC tried taking this concept and turning it into a sitcom. It failed. Miserably. However, Mike's stance "ads=content" is true, by definition (duh), but it does not apply in the real world when consumers are the ones judging the "content".

    There could be a variety of reasons why the show failed, but I've a very, very strong suspicion it was based on feeling like a GEICO ad.

    My girlfriend has literally called me to come running into living room to see the one Geiko caveman commercial because she thought it was hilarious.
    This has no relevance on the topic at hand, as you clearly are defending my argument about the difference between content and ads when it comes to consumer viewership.
    Did she come running to you about the show she was watching?

    If something is entertaining, it could be ad advertisement for a colonoscopy and we'd watch it.
    This can be filed under the "duh!" category.

    I believe it was Toyota which showed the car transforming on a garage rooftop. That was entertaining. I watched it. But this clearly doesn't mean I want a damn show about that ONE CAR doing robotic dance moves all the time.
    Here's a clue → *. Please take it.

    If you tell a story and make it funny and then almost add the advertisement in as an afterthought, people will still watch it.
    Do you even comprehend the topic at hand? And you called me the moron.
    Let me help you understand: The story you tell would be both the content and the ad in one. There would be no "after thought".

    Imagine if Techdirt only posted blogs about American Express.

    You EXPECT the content to change. You'll leave if it doesn't.

    And this is where Mike wants the industry to move.

    How long do you think Lost would remain popular if everyone viewing it → THINKS ← it's nothing more than an ENTERTAINING ADVERTISEMENT for a product when they're EXPECTING a show about drama?

    Now add this to everything. See the problem now? I can't imagine anyone would want all their entertainment based around product pushing, regardless how entertaining it is.

    One final note: Ever have a friend who got into something so much, they try pulling you into it despite your objections? How long do you tolerate your friend's push until you tell them to shut the hell up?

    Welcome to "ads=content".

     

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  21.  
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    Andrew, Feb 13th, 2009 @ 10:01am

    How long do you think Lost would remain popular if everyone viewing it → THINKS ← it's nothing more than an ENTERTAINING ADVERTISEMENT for a product when they're EXPECTING a show about drama?

    Lost is an ad, it's selling space to advertisers. Lost is popular, therefore it's ad space goes for a premium.

    Shows get canceled because they did a bad job of selling ad space. Popular shoes stay on longer because they are better ads for ad space.

     

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  22.  
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    Mike (profile), Feb 13th, 2009 @ 10:31am

    Re: Re: Re: AHEM!!

    I'm not sure how many times I have to repeat this before it gets through to you Twinrova:

    All of the examples you COMPLAIN about are BAD CONTENT. That's exactly what I say won't work. The point is that the content needs to be good.

    Imagine if Techdirt only posted blogs about American Express.

    That would be BAD CONTENT. Which is NOT what I'm talking about.

    I'll try this one more time: EVERY single post on Techdirt is advertising. Every single one. Yet, you (and hundreds of thousands of others) still read them. By choice. That's GOOD content and GOOD advertising.

     

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  23.  
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    William, Feb 13th, 2009 @ 10:37am

    Re: Re: advertising as content

    Yes it is. It's but one of few shows though and they feature vast numbers of products with very short pitches, which is but one possible approach. It's definitely worth noting though, especially considering how long that show has been on the air. It's a good example that incorporating a large amount of advertising into content can work, and very successfully at that.

     

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  24.  
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    whats new?, Feb 13th, 2009 @ 11:04am

    anyone remember the tastebud/budweiser ads from SNL's first few seasons?
    Enough said.

     

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  25.  
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    HFC, Feb 13th, 2009 @ 11:45am

    Re: AHEM!!

    "You can make a show as entertaining as you like, but if viewers feel they're watching an ad for a product, they're not going to remain viewers of this content for very long."

    Have you ever seen Top Chef? Anytime they are in their kitchen, it's one long commercial for the appliances. That is a very popular show that, I feel, has gone beyond product placement to being a blatant commercial. How many cut aways do we need of the appliance logos during a quick fire challenge?

     

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  26.  
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    Petrified Jello, Feb 13th, 2009 @ 11:58am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: AHEM!!

    I'll try this one more time: EVERY single post on Techdirt is advertising. Every single one. Yet, you (and hundreds of thousands of others) still read them. By choice. That's GOOD content and GOOD advertising.

    Please stop doing that. I get it. From now on, I'll stop using the word content.

    Techdirt blogs about various products, services, and companies every day. The latest, regarding the iPhone, is an advertisement for the phone, Techdirt's services, the company Apple, and the US copyright system.

    But what product did it try to sell us? None. If anything, one interpretation of the blog was not to buy the iPhone because the company that makes it is clueless about copyright infringement.

    I made this determination. Not you. I come back here every day because you're not trying to sell me anything in EVERY blog you write. You discuss, and move on. Not once have I ever read "Get 20% off the iPhone at [store name here]" in any blog about the iPhone.

    Trying to take Techdirt's example of "ads=content" will not apply in an industry which is supported by multiple sponsors. The television industry tried this decades ago, and it failed.

    What you're asking is the entertainment industry to constantly keep changing the advertisement such that viewers are still entertained while trying to push products to support their revenue stream.

    Techdirt gets away with it because it doesn't pay for writers, production staff, actors, set designers, artists, sales people, and other employees that it takes to air a television episode, air a song, or write a magazine.

    This "content=ads" applies extraordinarily well in an industry which has extremely low production and distribution costs.

    Because in other entertainment venues, viewers WILL stop watching/listening/reading entertaining ads when they feel it's not about the plot, but more about the product, which is the primary reason for advertising by corporate sponsors.

    There. Does this help you understand better?

     

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  27.  
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    batch, Feb 13th, 2009 @ 12:22pm

    Re: Re: Re: AHEM!!

    @those correcting the spelling of moron:
    why can't people who waste my time by either replying to their own comment or that of others correcting spelling be banned from the internet??? three strike policy would be better used for that purpose. You clearly know what they meant, get over it already. I, for one, am not impressed with your spelling wizardry.

     

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  28.  
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    Mike (profile), Feb 13th, 2009 @ 12:44pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: AHEM!!

    There. Does this help you understand better?

    No. You're still confused. You still think that the content has to be bad to be advertising.

    You're wrong.

     

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  29.  
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    G-dogg, Feb 13th, 2009 @ 1:34pm

    Sadvertising...

    Head On...apply directly to the forehead.
    Head On...apply directly to the forehead.
    Head On...apply directly to the forehead.

    Effective...to the point...demonstrative,
    Annoying? Like my overuse of fragments, and "...," absolutely.

    I don't know if the product works, because I have never tried it, but the advertising made me remember the product. I certainly considered buying the product.

    When it comes to companies like Pepsi and Coca Cola, the products are very similar. Some people are loyal to either; others buy what they last heard on TV. With large companies like those, they have to out-GRP each other just to keep the lasting impression in your head.

    Studies suggest people don't remember the product because of the silliness of the commercial. There are award-winning Ad Agencies out there recognized amongst their peers, but their spots/commercials are not remembered.

     

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  30.  
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    adbot 2000, Feb 13th, 2009 @ 3:39pm

    I blame SubwayFreshBuzz.com for taking so long to bring back the tasty "All Footlongs for $5.00" promo! Now there is now no reason to fight!

    *Note: franchise pricing may vary.

     

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  31.  
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    Michael Armstrong, Feb 13th, 2009 @ 4:05pm

    Re: They were commercials - not skits

    It's really hard to say whether the ones that ran during SNL were intended as regular commercials or not. Sure, they had the obvious product placement, but I wouldn't judge it from the timing alone.

    I've noticed a few shows going to a commercial break, playing 2 ads, then 60 seconds of show, then another 2 ads, then back to the regular show.

    It's obvious that this split is intentional, and geared towards the commercial skippers. That's how it caught me. I was fast forwarding through the commercials as usual and saw the show come back, so I dropped out of fast forward and ended up with a commercial break 60 seconds later.

    The worst part was that the 60 seconds didn't actually add anything to the show. It was there solely to disrupt my ability to effectively skip commercials.

     

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  32.  
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    Bored Viewer, Feb 14th, 2009 @ 7:31am

    SNL needs better wrtiers

    SNL needs to get some better writers.
    They got good ratings before and after the election because the material wrote itself. It's time to move on.

     

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  33.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 15th, 2009 @ 2:37am

    It was an ad paid for by Pepsi (see link below). I find the McGruber skits hilarious, but this one was completely unfunny, mostly because advertisements which are jokes about excessive product placement are just not funny.

    http://www.baltimoresun.com/entertainment/tv/bal-pepsi-snl-ad-0203,0,5587971.story

     

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  34.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 15th, 2009 @ 3:14pm

    Re:

    In Mike's terminology, Lost is an ad, but it's an ad for the creators, writers, actors, etc. who create the show. This is "ad" as substituted for "portfolio."

    If something is popular and you therefore call it "ad space," then I guess no one can disagree too much with your semantics, though they're completely pointless. Popular does not equal "trying to sell you a product other than the thing itself" ... which is what an "ad" really is.

     

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  35.  
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    Renren, Feb 15th, 2009 @ 6:59pm

    Re: Re: AHEM!!

    -- It's the dry, circa 1960's commercials that no one will watch.

    LoL sign me up! I'll watch =P It would be a good way to learn about how people lived during the 60's.

     

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  36.  
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    Renren, Feb 15th, 2009 @ 7:07pm

    I think the ad was spot on -- now we know *more* about Pepsi and SNL than we cared before to know.

    I'd agree, it's *good* advertising.

    I personally like "serial" advertising that's well done. I don't know why you people *hate* commercials so much. You can simply decide *not* to buy.

     

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  37.  
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    Michael Talpas (profile), Mar 12th, 2009 @ 10:25am

    Ads as content

    I have figured out the problem, Mike and Twinrova. You are not saying opposite things, just different things.

    Twinrova (as an explaination of what I think you mean for the benefit of others), you believe that 'advertising' as it currently exists is repetitive and overly interested in itself. The 'creator' puts out a big production he calls 'Content', but ultimately it is up to the viewer, the 'consumer' (us, in a nutshell) to determine if it is 'Content'. That is, if we want to see it.

    Mike (again, as an explaination of what I think you mean), you feel that if someone creates 'content' that also involves advertising, that they will be successful. They have not hidden the advertising in the content, they have merged the two, creating something that is not repetitive and over the top, but something that is interesting and entertaining that also gets your product advertised.

    You are both saying the same thing, just coming at it from different angles. Mike feels that content and advertising is the same thing (this is true, because the best advertising for your product is providing the best product available). Twinrova feels that advertising is, by its very nature, irritating and repetitive (this 'can be' true, as advertisers have given us this impression by creating repetitive, boring ads). But, Twinrova also admits that entertaining advertising is good. This is the whole point! So, really there is no argument here.

    I hope that helps.

     

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  38.  
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    sole f80 treadmill, Feb 17th, 2010 @ 7:36pm

    Advertise/content

    I completely agree with you on this one. There are many ways to advertise products but if you don't have content, how can you persuade the customer to buy? That's why there are article marketing and blogging. I think content not only help you convince buyers but also help them in a way to find solutions to their problems. For example, writing some tips about how to stop foreclosure in texas can help many people to save their homes and may encourage them to buy other products.

     

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