Advertising's future in entertainment
How advertisers are dealing with technological changes like TIVO and broadband on mobile phones, and the truth behind product placement.
John Hockenberry, host, "The Takeaway": Now, there are all kinds of bemoaning the end of journalism, but in many ways changes in advertising are probably more significant and more likely to affect more people. First of all, how are advertisers dealing with technological changes like TIVO, the proliferation of broadband on cell phones, that sort of thing?
Cindy Gallop: Not very well, in that the advertising industry is riddled with fear and insecurity, at the moment, in the wake of the explosion of all of these technological advances and a great deal of nervousness and concern about exactly how they deal with them.
John Hockenberry: And it seems like that there’s this weird incestuous relationship between the content and the advertising, in the sense that the script writers are obsessed with getting ratings and so they want to get the highest possible ratings with the kind of content they use. The advertisers want to get into the content and not be in this commercial ghetto. There’s all sorts of product placement issues that are blurring the line between the entertainment part and the advertising part.
Cindy Gallop: Well, product placement is interesting, John, because actually it’s just one aspect of a much more fundamental trend that I see happening, which is that advertisers these days are so nervous and insecure about themselves and what they’re doing, that they come from a place where they feel, and quite rightly, that an awful lot of people out there think advertising is bad. And they are dealing with that by excusing their very existence and trying almost to bypass the fundamental issue, which is how do you make advertising a good thing? Product placement is just one aspect of how they’re trying to bypass and step away from that particular core question.
John Hockenberry: They keep from apologizing for themselves. Let’s listen to this ad, sort of, in the NBC show "30 Rock."
["30 Rock," on tape]:“These Verizon wireless phones are just so popular, I accidentally grabbed one belonging to an acquaintance.” “Well sure ‘cause that Verizon wireless phone service is just unbeatable. If I saw a phone like that on TV, I would say “Where is my nearest retailer so I can get one?” Can we have our money now?”
John Hockenberry: Alright. Now, they’re joking, but is Verizon getting invoiced for that amount of mention on 30 Rock?
Cindy Gallop: Well, I think it’s highly likely that Verizon will have struck some sort of deal, absolutely.
John Hockenberry: Ya, but it’s funny. They’re apologizing for it, but in fact that raises the profile of the product itself in the way that they keep joking about it.
Cindy Gallop: It does indeed. And actually, 30 Rock is interesting because it’s an example of the more successful approach to product placement in that the very nature of the humor, and the irony inherent in the series itself, allows the producers to integrate commercial brands in a way that many other shows find a lot more difficult.
John Hockenberry: It seems to me that the whole approach and the tone is a way of saying “We know the deal folks, right? They’re selling products, we’re selling programs, it’s like we’re all together in this.” And all of a sudden the anxiety goes away and it’s funnier.
Cindy Gallop: In theory. But John I have to admit, I personally really take issue with that particular mindset and I’m going to call up a quote from Mark Goldstein when he was CMO at the advertising agency Fallon, who said a number of years ago: “People hate advertising in general, but they love advertising in particular.” And what that means is, if you ask the man on the street “What do you think about advertising?” He’ll go “Oh my god, I hate it, it gets in my way at commercial breaks and interrupts everything.” But if you ask the man on the street “Tell me some of your favorite ads,” he’ll go “I really love that Nike ad where…” So people hate advertising in general but they love advertising in particular. Make it great and engaging advertising and people feel it enhances their lives rather than the opposite.
John Hockenberry: Well here’s another strategy for deliberately blurring the line between a show and an ad. And tell me what you think of this. This is from the USA network "Psych." And it starts out sounding like an actual episode and then becomes something quite different.
["Psych," on tape]:
“Think he’s found us?” [Gun shots]
“I’ll take that as a yes.”
“Ah dude I’d look totally awesome driving this car. Sunroof down. Hair blowing gently in the wind.”
“Don’t move.” [points gun]
“Actually, he would look awesome driving this car.”
“Hop in there.” [Guy with gun tries to open door – car alarm goes off]
“The new midsize Kia optima gets 32 miles per gallon highway with a five-star crash safety rating Kia, the power to surprise. Watch all new episodes of "Psych," Fridays at 10 on USA.”
John Hockenberry: Now who’s the driver and who’s the passenger here? Is "Psych" riding the Kia brand or is Kia riding the "Psych" brand?
Cindy Gallop: Well, I think most people would say it’s Kia riding the "Psych" brand. And again, I would argue that that’s a very obvious mode of product placement and branded entertainment, if you’d like. The best examples, to be frank, are fully integrated into the action in such a way that the action could literally not exist without them. And that’s why some of the best examples historically have been accidental product placement. When Tom Cruise took Ray-Ban aviators to extraordinary world-wide sales in "Top Gun," that wasn’t because Ray-Ban did a fantastic deal. That was because Ray-Ban gave sunglasses to every Hollywood movie in the hope that one day, they’d strike it big. And they did with a movie that integrated them into the story line.
John Hockenberry: That’s brilliant. Did they know which one was going to hit?
Cindy Gallop: No, not at all, and they didn’t know with Wayfarers in "Risky Business" either.
John Hockenberry: That’s another great example. So what products can we see cast in Hollywood movies of the future?
Cindy Gallop: Well the ideal, and this is actually what a lot of advertisers are trying to do, is to actually get right in at the very heart of the concepting process, before the script is even written, and actually find a way to tap into the ideation of what the next move is going to be. But again, it’s absolutely a lottery. You have no idea ultimately what will make it and what won’t. But the best thing to do, as I said, is to integrate your brand and product in a way that, quite literally, the storyline could not play out without it.
John Hockenberry: Maybe that means there’ll be a credit some day where right after casting director, there’s product integrator.
Cindy Gallop: It could well be. And I have to tell you, anybody who manages to achieve that fantastically will be extraordinarily sought after and very, very rich.
"The Takeaway" is a national morning news program, delivering the news and analysis you need to catch up, start your day, and prepare for what’s ahead. The show is a co-production of WNYC and PRI, in editorial collaboration with the BBC, The New York Times Radio, and WGBH.