Letter From Elsewhere: Your Money and Your Life
Your Money and Your Life
We learnt a useful double lesson this week. Today’s expert highwaymen don’t believe in giving us a choice. They want both our money and our life.
First came the strange case of the mystery advertisers. As a Scoop news story explained yesterday (See... The Les Mills Pro-GE Advertorial Mystery), someone inserted two strongly pro-GE stories in a four-page “Health and Fitness” lift-off supplement wrapping several free community papers in Auckland and Wellington. The promo on the front stated, “Genetically enhanced food given okay”.
While the words “advertorial feature” did appear in Wellington, in Auckland the supplement appeared without anything to show it was advertorial and not actual “NEWS”, as a banner at the top of each page proclaimed. The pro-GE stories were not attributed in any way (though the photos were sourced to Reuter).
Neither of the main advertisers,
Les Mills and Extreme Nutrition, had produced this content.
So where did these stories come from? Who put them in the
Clearly the pro-GE lobby contains somebody (or some body) desperate to associate GE with health and fitness.
Blatantly blurring the boundaries between paid advertising and genuine editorial content is bad enough. But it pales beside what’s coming soon to a TV screen near you.
On 9 February 1996, The National Business Review ran a story about True North Communications, the parent company for a clutch of ad agencies. True North’s Fred Wray explained that his company was “leading in the phenomenon [of] agencies turning into a hybrid of television production houses”. Instead of just “slapping a sponsor’s name on a pre-made show”, said Fred, “there is a harmony between the creative and the environment the commercial runs in and the target audience which is viewing the message”.
So “True North develops television scripts, finds a producer and director and puts together a programme which is synergistically tied with the creative and the message of the advertiser”, as “a way for us to devise an environment in which the advertising that runs for the client is enhanced.” Examples: The Magic of David Copperfield (the magician, not the grubby Dickens story set partly in a blacking factory) for Chlorox Bleach. “Producing your own programme means you can ensure the values…are compatible with your own brand.”
Now here’s the scary bit: “Mr Wray predicted advertiser-supplied programming would happen here…’The networks are always looking for content’.”
How right he was. The Sunday Star-Times has just run a story on The Missing Link, “Australia’s first [production] company tailor-making TV programmes for advertisers.” Its parent is Singleton Group, which owns 60% of ad agency Singleton Ogilvy and Mather.
Singleton’s deputy managing director Michael Cunningham “says they want to approach TV production form a new angle – the advertiser’s angle…this brand wants to create an environment through a TV show which is in tune with their brand values.” Their “mantra” is to create “proven delivery of audience through brand-driven TV content with multi-platform capability.”
Why hasn’t this been done before? Well, it has, sort of, as the story points out. The original “soap operas” were developed by Proctor and Gamble “as an advertising vehicle for laundry detergents”. Today the Family Friendly Programming Forum, a group of 40 advertisers, “promote[s] the development of prime-time, family-friendly TV programmes by underwriting the cost of script development.”
So what amazing concept is first off the blocks from The Missing Link? Well, as the anthropological meaning of their name might suggest, they have produced a programme called The Band, which was partly funded by – yes! - Lion Nathan, whose sponsorship is listed in the credits.
Is there product placement? Well, it’s about “four young guys travelling around Queensland so naturally you would expect them to be drinking beer…it was subtly handled.”
In future, though, we may not be so well informed: “some advertisers will want to publicise their involvement while others will prefer anonymity” - just like the mystery figures behind the pro-GE stories.
Thanks to some anonymous insider information, this column can now reveal what’s on the drawing board for the new TV programme season. See if you can guess which companies might be involved (some of these vehicles offer grat synergies for complementary sponsorship). A word of warning: you may not actually notice a great deal of difference between the programmes you watch today, and the ones now being planned at the local branch of your friendly global advertising agency.
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