This just in, NBC has officially inked a deal to land one of the stars of “Vegas” on the cover of June’s Maxim magazine in return for featuring Maxim’s Hot 100 party in an upcoming episode of the show. This on the heels of NBC’s lucrative deal with Volkswagen, mentioned here earlier this month. And this is just the tip of the iceberg.
Entertainment and advertising are in the midst of what evolutionary biologists might call an “endosymbiotic event”…
… one defined as a “relationship between organisms which live one within another in a mutually beneficial relationship.” More than symbiosis, where, say, two parties benefit from external means, new marketers and programmers are finding ways to accomplish their goals from within each other’s mediums. It’s an exciting time – a period of flux that is breeding entirely new species of entertainment and advertising.
Now, I’m not kidding myself – product placements have been around since the dawn of mass media. But pick up a remote control, turn a radio dial, flip open a magazine; As we speak, the savviest minds in PR, advertising, publishing, television and radio are tearing down the boundaries between their respective medias, merging entertainment with marketing and splicing headlines with taglines. While in decades past this muddy cocktail of ulterior motives and vested interests has generally left audiences with a sour aftertaste, the rise of a new hybrid type of programming (reality TV) and the demand for more creative marketing channels (and more creative use of existing channels) has begun to wear away the thin set of mores that once made us cringe at terms like “product placement” and “branded entertainment.”
And, as some boundaries fall, others must rise. In our ROI-obsessed times, sites like Frank Zazza’s www.itvx.com are stepping up to quantify the complexities of branded entertainment. How much is it worth to Quicksilver to land a sweatshirt on a prime time star for 20 seconds? Is it better or worse that the star is a villain on the show – or a recurring character? These vagaries must be measured!
While I could list half a dozen producers and marketing execs like Zazza who are driving this trend in imaginative ways, the list of ham handed B-players stampeding into advertainment is growing exponentially. (Fear not, this only makes it easier to stand out.) Take last night’s “The Apprentice.” I couldn’t tell when the Best Buy segment on the show ended and the Domino’s commercial with Trump began. “The Contender” (a show I like) has also had a hard time coming up with smart ways to integrate brands (Did anybody see the episode where boxers had to run through the “Toyota traffic jam” and climb a Bally’s truck? I mean, come on, at least try to surprise us.) I won’t even get into the Extreme Makeover/Muppets plug. Ugh. Where’s the effort? I suppose any evolutionary trend has its own clumsy offshoots doomed to extinction (ads on Major League Baseball bases, anyone?)
Here’s my question to the masses: What’s the most tactful, original example of advertainment you’ve seen recently? Was it subtle, overt, funny, outrageous? We’ve all seen the beer cans propped just-so in sitcoms, the designer clothes and flashy cars in music videos, the guileless Paris and her damn Sidekick… but who’s really speaking this language? Who’s surprised you?