Content Is Advertising... On TV

from the but-you-need-to-be-careful dept

Continuing my series of posts on how all content is advertising and all advertising is content, there was an interesting story last week about how a top ad agency is teaming up with NBC to create TV shows around sponsors' products. This is an interesting idea, but the risk is in how it's being implemented. Such a strategy worked well when BMW put together its BMWfilms effort -- but the focus there was very much on making sure that the films were top notch. It involved star directors making quality short films that didn't necessarily promote BMW, but had BMWs in those films. The content itself was quite entertaining, and many people watched them.

And that, of course, is the key element here. The content itself needs to be compelling and stand alone as quality content, no matter what the products being showcased. Also, since the films were clearly labeled and promoted as BMWfilms, there was no "hidden" product placement. Everything was very upfront and aboveboard. What I fear with something like this new experiment from NBC, is that the the advertisers at the table will have too much of a say in the creative content, and will focus on making sure the product is positioned right, rather than making sure the content actually works and has entertainment value.

It will also be interesting to see how NBC handles promotion of this series. Will it be treated like any other series? Will it be available online? Will NBC let others copy and share it? Will there still be interruptions from commercials when it airs on TV? The answers may be very telling in how NBC is approaching this effort. Either way, this will be an experiment worth following. My guess is that, given the players involved, it will fail. The ad agency will push too hard to make the content more focused on the sponsored products. NBC will struggle with how to position and promote the show. And the whole thing will disappear quickly. I'd love to be wrong, and see real quality content come out of this, but, that may be asking too much at this point.
Other posts in this series:

Reader Comments (rss)

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  1. identicon
    PRMan, Apr 23rd, 2008 @ 12:27pm

    How NBC will handle it...

    If it's anything like their other shows, they will give it 6 episodes and then pull it before anybody gets a chance to discover it and really settle in.

    I've gotten to the point that I just don't watch new NBC shows at all, because the likelihood of this happening is way higher than on other networks (and especially cable).

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    onektwenty4, Apr 23rd, 2008 @ 12:41pm

    a new sitcom

    a new sitcom where the characters work as advertisement writers/actors/directors. they could then film the characters going to work and it wouldn't be particularly out of place to show them featured in ads touting products. other than those spots, it could incorporate any other sitcom elements

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Seth, Apr 23rd, 2008 @ 12:41pm

    Already Happening Elsewhere...

    There was a recent episode of Smallville that was completely centered around 'Stride' gum. Events took place in a Stride factory, mention of the product was everywhere, and they even fit their 'long lasting' slogan into one of the character's dialog. I was surprised at how blatant it was. It was like in Wayne's World with the Pepsi products, but they weren't making fun of product placement.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 23rd, 2008 @ 12:46pm

    Mike thinks his economic degrees make him a qualified TV Executive. That is funny. That is like the funniest thing I have heard for a while.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Mischa G, Apr 23rd, 2008 @ 12:54pm

    Captive Audiences

    With the internet it's really hard to create a real captive audience so it's hardly surprising to see a move towards a convergence of ad and content. Really, it's the only sensible way to go, considering the alternative seems to be restricting viewers choice.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    EJDean, Apr 23rd, 2008 @ 1:07pm

    Re: Anonymous Coward

    What qualifies a TV executive? Being a short-sighted jackhole? I'll take the economics degree, thanks.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Jake, Apr 23rd, 2008 @ 1:11pm

    Didn't General Motors already try this with the Transformers film?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 23rd, 2008 @ 1:11pm

    Re: Re: Anonymous Coward

    EJDean, nice ad hominem. I applaude your intellect.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Syn-Ack, Apr 23rd, 2008 @ 1:15pm

    Ad Free Content Please

    The risk is more than in the implementation. There is no way this could work. The whole concept is a sneaky way to create a captured audience. The problem here is that there is no target. As google knows and their competition found out too late, you can't force people to view advertising that don't apply to them for too long before they look elsewhere. Why would I ever watch a show I know is a thinly disguised advertisement for a product I don't care for. The only thing I see this accomplishing is the eventual demand for advertising free content that people will pay for similiar to how cable got started.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 23rd, 2008 @ 1:23pm

    I think it should be like the radio shows in the 30s to the 50s e.g. The Jello Program starring Jack Benny, From Desoto Plymouth Dealership, it's Groucho with You Bet Your Life, etc. Those were really upfront and listening to them, I find I don't mind the sponsors at all in that format.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    Don DiPietro, Apr 23rd, 2008 @ 1:30pm

    The best product placement of all time.

    Recent episode of Thirty Rock. Jack (Alec Baldwin) realizes he's picked up his girlfriend's phone by mistake -- a natural plot device. Jack and Liz then slide into a digression about the remarkable features of the new Verizon cell phones. After a slight, awkward beat Tina Fey turns directly to camera and says: "Can we have our money now?"


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    Adam, Apr 23rd, 2008 @ 1:56pm

    You are right, this would never work

    By the way, is Cavemen coming back to ABC?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    Texas Coward, Apr 23rd, 2008 @ 2:51pm

    When our network stations going to learn that Tv is an aging dinosaur?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    Haywood, Apr 23rd, 2008 @ 2:55pm

    I could see it working if it eliminated commercials

    If the context was right, the product pushing would be less objectionable than commercial breaks. I'm seeing a sitcom in a car dealer, or moving reaper into a real Homedepot or Lowes, and Chuck into a real Best Buy and move him from the nerd herd into the Geek Squad.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    Rekrul, Apr 23rd, 2008 @ 3:01pm

    How about a show based around sex products like condoms, lube, sex toys, etc. I'd watch that. ;)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. icon
    Mike (profile), Apr 23rd, 2008 @ 3:52pm

    Re: Ad Free Content Please

    The whole concept is a sneaky way to create a captured audience.

    Not at all. I think the idea is not to be sneaky at all, but to be totally upfront about it.

    As google knows and their competition found out too late, you can't force people to view advertising that don't apply to them for too long before they look elsewhere.

    But that's the point! ALL content, even those that you don't think of as "advertising" already is advertising in some way. You view plenty of content because you *like* it and it provides value to you. If NBC can pull that off here, then what's the problem?

    Why would I ever watch a show I know is a thinly disguised advertisement for a product I don't care for.

    Again, the point is that it's not thinly disguised, and the content is actually *worth* watching on its own.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. identicon
    BRADLEY STEWART, Apr 23rd, 2008 @ 4:38pm


    on saturday or sunday and turned on what are now called news programs. Jeez Louise just what I want to watch, featured diseases on almost every station. This week I began thinking who is so interested in this subject so early in the morning every weekend. Then It dawned on me. All these programs are sponsered by Pharmacutical Companys. These programs are really Infomercials in a different format.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. identicon
    DanC, Apr 23rd, 2008 @ 7:32pm

    Re: Re: Re: Anonymous Coward

    Of course, your original comment was basically an ad hominem attack itself, insinuating we should disregard the article because Mike isn't a television executive.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. icon
    fuzzmanmatt (profile), Apr 23rd, 2008 @ 9:03pm

    NBC did this with Chrysler back in the 90s with "Viper." It had compelling storylines, featured the car as a character, and was fun to watch (even though I only saw it in reruns at 2am after Star Trek: Voyager). Ford did it with Knight Rider just recently. It can be done, and it can be done well. It can also be done really, really badly.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. identicon
    Twinrova, Apr 24th, 2008 @ 4:20am

    Yep, you knew I was going to post.

    I'm going to be the one that points out the obvious here because I think many readers will certainly skip over it without much thought.

    Many examples were posted but I don't find it a coincidence that the "good" content featured cars while the "bad" content featured products (Smallville Stride episode).

    Even with the upcoming Speed Racer movie, you're going to see car related advertising within it.

    So does this mean it can only be good with automobiles only? I believe so. Many viewers of the Transformers movie were not fooled by the GM placement ads of their vehicles. Many were keen to point out the other non-GM vehicles had no company logos, taking away a bit of the "reality" often expected in shows.

    Interesting how this is perceived by the average consumer. Of course, GM made sure it was introducing itself as the "proud sponsor" of the movie with its TV ads, but overall, the director went missing when the logos disappeared.

    That's shameful to consumers and this only points to the notion I've been arguing since day 1 that the entertainment industry no longer wants to produce content, but strictly advertising. By "marrying" the two together, we, as consumers, ultimately fail and will force many to see entertainment elsewhere.

    Another thing I would like to point out is how the trend is moving to force consumers to purchase ads, as opposed to the "old school" design of giving away content for free due to the ads. Every day, this gets pushed farther and farther into consumers' lives and yet, there is no "resistance" to it.

    Most likely because there is absolutely no alternative available. When people expect "content" to be free of ads during purchase, I wonder what will happen when they see they must also purchase these ads in addition.

    Video games are already taking this step and some DVDs also do this (for other DVD purchases, some you can't even skip past).

    Personally, I find the entertainment industry failing as a whole and while it may take a while, consumers will eventually "fight back" by tuning elsewhere to entertain themselves.

    Just as they're doing with cable shows as the "big 3" continue to spend less for game shows and reality shows while canning decent "content" (Jericho fans can relate).
    TNT, TBS, Sci-Fi, and USA are taking advantage of this as their viewership for original content has skyrocketed in the last 3 years, despite offering more ads per break than the "big 3" (side note: Even the "big 3" ad breaks are getting longer).

    If anyone here watches futuristic anime, it's interesting to see the amount of ads found in the shows (many are fake, but the quantity is obvious). I find the Japanese have a pretty damn good idea where advertising is going in the future.

    Bleak, it is.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. identicon
    Jake, Apr 24th, 2008 @ 5:35am

    Come to think of it, this actually isn't a completely new idea. The soap opera gets its name from a short drama series conceived to advertise a brand of washing powder. And by God I wish one of them had patented the idea...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22. identicon
    jprlk, Apr 24th, 2008 @ 7:35am

    The Office

    writers for nbc's "the office" have been doing a wonderful job of product placement as part of the shows, as plot devices, instead of just having a can of coke on the corner of a desk. off the top of my head there were a couple of episodes revolving around sandal's jamaica where the main character goes on and on about its all-inclusiveness, there was an hour long christmas episode revolving around a benihana restaurant and a couple of episodes where a main character goes to work for a staples/office depot (which are mentioned often). i think they've started figuring out the mechanics of advertising as content and content as advertising.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23. identicon
    Rekrul, Apr 24th, 2008 @ 6:00pm

    I seem to recall another episode of Smallville that prominently featured either a particular brand of cell phone or maybe a digital camera.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24. identicon
    Ian Ward-Bolton, May 22nd, 2008 @ 6:16am


    Here in the UK, we have the Playhouse Disney channel which has absolutely zero commercial breaks yet the kids' programmes are really good (Little Einsteins, Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, etc.). The reason there are no adverts is because every show has associated toys and everything is an advert for Disney.

    The proof that this approach works is that we have bought loads of toys and are planning a trip to Disneyland at some point. It should be noted as well that the BBC has a very successful kids' TV show called In The Night Garden, which has an abundance of associated products. (We have bought about 30 so far, from toys to night-lights to duvet sets.) Thankfully, it's all really good stuff - otherwise I would be cursing those clever marketing people!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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