Pat Clark

Pat Clark: TV gets creative in advertising

Technology changes everything, and today's rapid-fire competition to be the next big breakthrough has things changing almost on top of themselves.

Heck, by the time my son saved up for his iPod, Apple came out with a new version that put his to shame.

Technology certainly has been messing with the way television does business. The DVR surely has kept many an advertising and network executive up at night trying to figure out how to get commercials to the masses without them falling victim to the fast-forward button.

Me, I love that fast-forward button. But I can see the Catch-22 therein. By skipping over commercials, we risk losing the very shows those commercials pay to keep on the air.

So networks and ad folk are getting creative to combat technology.

Product placement has found bit of a niche on TV and mostly works. Seeing a product situated in a scene where it isn't obtrusive is hardly an issue. If it pays for my favorite shows to stay on the air, I'm all for it.

It would not be shocking to, say, see a can of Coke on Jim Halpert's desk during an episode of "The Office." It would be completely believable that Jim would sip a Coke over the course of his workday.

That said, seeing a box of erectile disfunction meds on his desk would be seriously off-putting. That sort of product is best left to the late-night cable ad game.

Yes, it all needs to be handled tastefully.

Sometimes, less subtle placements are just fine, too. On "Top Chef," for example it's abundantly clear that certain companies are huge sponsors of the competition/reality show. Every episode offers a glimpse of cheftestants encasing food in Glad wrap with the big logo getting its weekly camera close-up.

Norma Desmond would be jealous, Mr. DeMille.

Any number of food products, from Swanson's broth to even Dr Pepper have been integral components in dishes prepared for the show's "Quickfire" challenges over the seasons. And Whole Foods must have a major stake in Bravo.

I'm only a bit red-faced to admit succumbing to the "Top Chef" sponsor's siren song myself, purchasing a particular snack food repeatedly consumed as competitors lounged about their manse this season.

Side note: It was delicious.

It's the same on "Project Runway, " where Tim Gunn has urged use of "the Macy's accessory wall" almost every season; likewise sending designers and their models off to the "Tresemmé and L'Oreal studios for hair and makeup."

Sure, it can be a bit stilted -- they make no pretense of trying to hide the plugs on these shows. But that actually makes it all the more palatable: This is how we pay our bills. Accept it. Enjoy it. Pick up a snack food, if you will.

Of course, while shows set in modern day are product- placement-appropriate, it clearly isn't quite so ideal for period pieces like "Mad Men." It's not like Don Draper can whip out a cell phone with a Verizon logo on it and place a call from 1963. Or pull a bag of Orville Redenbacher from the pantry and pop it in the microwave.

John Deere did get some interesting exposure on one "Mad Men" episode last season -- although having a mower cut off part of an ad exec's foot might not be the kind of commercial John Deere would finance.

Still, product placement is an understandable idea. Scrolls across the bottom of the television screen, not so much. I read somewhere sometime ago that this was being considered -- running ad lingo across the screen,

a la the ESPN sports ticker or 24-hour news scrolls.

That kind of intrusive sponsor-drivel not only would force me to consider cancelling certain shows from my DVR, but also boycott any product that thusly ruins my full-screen television experience.

It's on the brink of happening right now on some networks. Several channels tout their own programming by having characters grow up from the bottom corner of the screen and give you the 411 on their next episode, deflecting from whatever you're trying to watch at the time. They're neither subtle nor plot-appropriate and I kind of hate them.

Advertisers also are attempting to draw viewers in with their own mini-

shows. Serialized ads for Sprint air during "Desperate Housewives." But I don't watch them because, well, that fast-forward button is so darn lovable.

Such commercials are hardly groundbreaking, though. Taster's Choice did them back in the early 1990s with neighbors dancing around romance over jars of coffee -- "perhaps" -- and they were fairly adorable.

Clearly, there's no lack of actual commercial breaks on today's TVs, nor are they likely extinction material.

Traditional advertising remains the most lucrative avenue and almost certainly is here to stay.

But there may be creativity to be enjoyed in with alternative commercial forms. Scrolls aside, it should be kind of exciting to see where dealing with technology takes us next.

Reach Scene editor Pat Clark at pclark@modbee.com.

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