From Fox's "Glee" to USA Network's "White Collar," every program this year seems to be doing those unusually long-ish, content-commercial vignettes where a sponsored bit of content interrupts the usual series of 30-second commercials.
Understandably, these activities are for the 40% of us who have time-shifting devices and use the machines to fast-forward through commercials.
The intention is obvious, Cruising (fast-forwarding) through a normal two- to three-minute commercial pod, you notice some familiar-looking content, say the cast of "Glee" doing something you can't make sense of. So you stop and hit "play." Then you realized you've been watching one of a series of sponsored vignettes that have a cute little story with American Express mention at the end.
Other examples abound: During one recent episode of USA Network's "White Collar," a cast member gave viewers a tour of some New York City exterior locations via some transportation -- a new Ford Fusion car.
There's worst stuff: Some networks link a story at the end of particular TV segment to a commercial that follows -- so you really can't tell when the content ends and the commerce begins.
Does this help? Does this hurt? I'm guessing all this gets maybe half of those fast-forwarders to stop and look, grabbing the market some brand awareness it wouldn't normally get.
For some hard-core DVR users, who believe fast-forwarding is their god-given right, I'm guessing there is strong negative reaction. But for marketers, what's the alternative? With this tactic, tcompanies get 50% of those DVR fast-forwarders in the right frame of mind, being left with a positive or shrug-of-shoulders reaction. That's not bad.
Future branded-entertainment, pod-busting stuff needs to be even better. Take out the harder-looking product-placement stuff and just be upfront about it. Put up a billboard or logo of the company, at the beginning or the end of these little "infotainment" efforts, like the "Glee"-Amex vignettes.
To be fair, the "Glee" segments are a social action campaign to inspire viewers to make a difference in their communities. Still, that kind of messaging doesn't confuse viewers.
Viewers understand business needs to be done to financially support TV shows. In turn, TV networks and producers just need to be increasingly straightforward about what is content and what is commerce in order to get viewer support.