MTV Networks is having its upfronts today, where it pitches its new season to advertisers. The network is also trying to sell sponsors on its "podbusting" techniques—i.e., making commercials that are like mini-shows in themselves. The theory, of course, is that making ads more like regular programs will defeat the almighty Tivo, with content so compelling that you cannot help but watch, slack-jawed, as the hypnotic 60-second Mountain Dew Bourne Ultimatum spinoff flickers before your eyes. They're so entertaining! Way better than boring old regular commercials. In one sense, this is corporate America trying to give us what we want. But do we really want better ads?
Examples of MTV's work in this regard include several different "C.S.I. Guys" spots for Dunkin Donuts and Papa John's, and a three and a half minute long film about a young designer that is actually a Target ad.
Dario Spina, who handles the same job for MTV's entertainment channels like Comedy Central and Spike, said of countering the digital video recorder, "That's the idea here; we want to blur the lines between the commercial breaks and the entertainment content."
"Viewers keep watching right through the commercial," Mr. Spina said, adding that "good commercial content is good content."
Here's an idea: how about keeping ads clunky, boring, and easily skippable? Bad ads—or even just traditional ones—are very straightforward. They make a sales pitch. They offer information. It's quite simple to delineate them from the regular programming.
More entertaining and engaging ads are the work of the devil. The editorial- advertising divide is a good thing, even in its warped and watered-down television entertainment version. Enhanced product placement, which brings ads into shows, and more "podbusting," which brings shows into ads, add up to nothing but ads all the time. The takeover will soon be complete!
Please keep our television commercials in neat little blocks, so that we can get up and go to the bathroom while they are on, or, if we have the proper technology, skip them altogether. This whole "great ads that you want to watch just cause they're so great" is a huge backlash waiting to happen. It was also the business model of Firebrand.com, which went out of business despite a preponderance of nakedness.
We, as a society, have a social compact with television advertisers. We grumble about your sucky ads, and do everything we can to skip over them. But in the end we still buy your products. Everybody's happy. Start mixing up the shows and the ads too much, and people will get angry. That's when the revolution comes.
Well, probably not. But please don't make these fancy ads. Thank you.
[pic via Adbusters]