Wednesday, October 5, 2011

"Advertising? In My TV Show?"

There’s a new concern, and an article on NPR (with a listening segment) about TV shows with advertisements in them (Project Runway, Top Chef), or shows that are just blatant advertisements themselves (My Yard Goes Disney), and shows which are heavily linked to their purchasable action figures (My Little Pony, Beast Wars).

I have trouble seeing how this shift in advertising is news worthy. I guess it figures that NPR is reporting on it. In-show advertising (“product placement”) is nothing new. I even remember an old superman movie with a Marlboro cigarettes truck, which was supposed to be subliminal advertising.

Super inconspicuous.

The move to more direct advertising isn’t really so bad. NPR questions how we got here, but most of us already know: it’s just the next step from the older, Superman II-esque subliminal advertising, combined with our desire not to watch commercials. Ads are more skippable now, NPR says, given DVR capabilities and the ability to block ads on the internet (Firefox/Chrome + Adblock) but to be honest I’ve never had a problem avoiding watching them, even on TV. I remember when watching Lost with my family that commercials were a time to restock a dinner plate with more pasta and garlic bread or to make a quick bathroom dash. I can even clearly recall that the commercial break time on my favorite show, Beast Wars, was exactly two minutes. I would count the seconds away while getting ready for school each morning, making breakfast or getting my backpack together. Twenty-two minutes of show, eight minutes of commercials. Ask me now what the commercials were about and I couldn’t tell you; I could only guess action figures, since it was a children’s TV show.

There is one thing that hasn’t changed, which still makes any sort of advertisement ineffective: I have no reason to buy the product over comparable products, except in the case where there is no comparable product, such as My Little Pony or Beast Wars actions figures. If I see a Tide commercial and it reminds me to buy laundry detergent, I probably won’t end up buying Tide itself since it’s typically not the cheapest (or most effective) detergent available. (I understand that there are some people who blindly take a product off the shelf without looking at the price or competing products. I wonder if it’s this population, or just the very wealthy, which keep main brands successful.) A product such as a Swiffer cleaner, which actually has something unique about it, is worthy to be advertised during a show, and can take advantage of the attention of the viewers to display its uniqueness. But I would never buy an ordinary broom who’s brand was named during a show, when I have a no-name brand that works just as well.

And I certainly confess that there is a type of person out there who’ll watch a show like Top Chef and say to themselves, “I want to be like those people!” and will thus go out and buy all of the products used on it. This is likely who the companies are trying to sell to. But these dreamers lack the common sense to notice that any egg beater will beat the eggs, and perseverance and dedication above all else make a successful person. These are what we call morons and slackers.

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