Advertising and Vegetables

August 4, 2010

I was away from home this past Sunday evening and returned excited to watch two of my regular programs on the DVR: “Entourage” and “Mad Men.” I’ve watched these popular shows in succession before and have left shaking my head at our celebrity-obsessed culture and life in the Sixties, respectively, but this week I was more enamored of the idea of our volatile relationship with advertising. Allow me to explain.

As I usually do with shows saved on the DVR, I fast-forwarded through the commercials during AMC’s “Mad Men.” I was on pace to get through an hour-long program in roughly 45 minutes and I was happy about it. But during one commercial break I was fooled: A Dove ad led me to believe that it was not an ad, but actually the show. This caused me to halt the fast-forwarding as I was startled that the show had already resumed; it was as if I had fallen asleep for a few minutes.

The ad was set in an office resembling the fictional agency of seasons one, two and three, Sterling Cooper, with two advertising executives resembling Sterling Cooper ad men talking about women, only to be interrupted by a secretary telling them how women really are. Even the colors and camera movement were spot-on. What a ploy! I nearly logged in to Twitter to type, “WTF Dove? Way to give me more reason to like Old Spice…” only to come to my senses and acknowledge that the ad in fact was actually pretty brilliant. See it below.

And yes, ironically, this sponsor ad does indeed have a sponsor message preceding it that you will have to watch for 15 seconds or so in order to see the ad:

Ad Age reports that this is the first of six vignettes that viewers of “Mad Men” season four will see this year with the same copywriter and art director characters, from Unilever and Mindshare Entertainment. Good for them. They know viewers like me fast-forward through ads and they found a way to make sure we press that ‘stop’ button. But it is deceiving. Does it break some sort of unwritten rule that consumers shouldn’t be tricked into being advertised to?

I used to compare advertising to vegetables after I learned that TV shows and newspapers and magazines wouldn’t be around for us to enjoy sans ad revenue. Kind of like veggies with kids: if you don’t eat them, there won’t be any dessert, so you’d best just find a way to enjoy them as much as you can. But was what Dove did on Sunday the equivalent of a parent hiding broccoli in their child’s sandwich?

After “Mad Men” I watched the fourth episode in the seventh season of HBO’s “Entourage” titled “Tequila Sunrise.” That title was no coincidence. On the show, the character Turtle learns about a new biz opportunity for what is introduced as Avion tequila. The star of the show, Vince, raves about how “smooth it is.” Again, no coincidence in the script there. Turns out Avion is a real brand, with a real Twitter account. Yup, the brand is being introduced to possibly its target consumers on the program – a product placement product launch. Below is one such Avion placement screen capture from the show:

Avion Tequila Product Placement on "Entourage"

To go back to the child/veggie analogy, I like to think that advertisers have made them taste better – that challenge being a large reason why marketers want to be marketers – and consumers have become more tolerant in their consuming of them, but is it possible vegetables will ultimately always be merely an unpleasant way of getting to the dessert?