Einstein's Corner: It Only Hurts When I Laugh - Part IV

The fourth and final part of this series begins with the primary lesson learned from the accelerating migration of branded messages out of the commercial rotation and into the programs themselves in the form of product placement, nowhere more obvious than in the rapid proliferation of reality programming. This migration -- part of a greater movement away from the traditional commercial advertising model -- illustrates one of the more brilliant and enduring falsehoods perpetuated by the advertising and marketing community: the myth of ad-supported programming.

There is no ad-supported programming. Never has been. The ads were never there to support the programs. Indeed, the proliferation of reality TV finally reveals what has always been the case: The programs are there to support the ads.

Advertisers don't buy programs; they buy positions. The only things I, as an advertiser, want to know about any proposed media buy is how those positions will contribute to the delivery of my message, and how much the exchange will cost me. In other words: What the hell are all these programs doing between my ads?



But by reversing the truth, by claiming that their program-supported advertising is in fact advertising-supported programming, advertisers can then claim credit as the ones responsible for bringing us our daily fix - when in fact we already pay through the nose for it, with or without them. The neighborhood drug dealer thus becomes our best buddy in the exchange.

Besides, it's not as if we're addicted to specific programs. We're not; we're addicted to the media. We don't watch less TV when our favorite programs get cancelled any more than we consume fewer drugs because our favorite neighborhood dealer gets pinched. We just find new programs and new dealers to service our habits.

The implied logic behind the ad-supported programming suggests that fewer ads will somehow result in less programming, and that less programming will result in less media consumption. But that logic is built on a false economy. Just ask anyone who owns a DVR. They watch fewer ads but more programs. The result: more media consumption, not less.

The Internet is another case in point: What started out as a legacy-branded advertising model has evolved over the past decade to include many different performance and transaction-based revenue alternatives as the era of the dominant commercial advertising model winds down. The result: more media consumption, not less.

As marketing and advertising professionals we have fallen prey to our own mythologies. As a result, we see only deprivation in the midst of plenty. We mourn the loss of a media audience that only continues to grow, and deceive ourselves into thinking that the only way we can stem the loss is to deceive others, steal their business, or prey on those too young or too old to defend themselves.

In so doing we find ourselves defending even the most unsavory practices by cloaking ourselves like scoundrels in the Bill of Rights, and respond to angry consumers with the measured suggestion that they simply learn how to say "no." Change the channel, we advise with cavalier abandon. Yet we are wholly incapable of following our own counsel, or taking our own medicine.

We no longer believe in the power of what we do, so there is little reason to believe that what we do or how we do it changes lives.

Over the next several weeks I will begin to propose specific ways to be more mindful of what we do and the power we yield. Meanwhile, let me know what works for you.

Many thanks as always for your gracious time, dear reader. Best to you and yours...

Please note: The Einstein's Corner discussion group at is dedicated to exploring the adverse effects of our addictions to technology and media on the quality of our lives, both at work and at home. Please feel free to drop by and join the discussion.

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