Commentary

Brands Get Unintended Visibility During Pandemic, Protest Coverage

All kinds of unintended brand images are seen in the background of recent TV news content -- whether due to COVID-19 coverage or the recent protests and looting in many cities. 

TV networks -- especially those with a focus on news -- have had to shift from many in-studio interviews, or in-the-field efforts with reporters, to virtual at-home interviews.

What’s the difference? Some video glitches, broadband disruptions and unintentional product promotion -- or otherwise..

Mind you, this isn’t new for producing real-time TV news content. Reporters going out in public spaces typically show up in front of local businesses with signage from stores in the background -- Starbucks, Target, Best Buy, Walmart — you name it.

But now with COVID-19 disruptions forcing more at-home interviews from TV networks — including big Zoom virtual video meetings — product placement may be taking on a new role.

Many at-home interviewees go to great pains to have attractive books-lined backgrounds during at-home desktop/laptop video connected interviews.

In one recent interview with MSNBC on Wednesday, Admiral James Stavridis, US Navy (Retired) had his book “Sailing True North” prominently displayed in the background when he was being interviewed.

Now, to be fair, in-studio network interviews typically do the same thing -- touting books before or after interviews with related cover book images. No problem, no foul.

But now that process is out of the hands of TV news producers. (That said, news producers may also be approving some of these pre-arranged background images.)

After an initial MSNBC video sound bite with Stavridis and the book image, the network offered a more cropped image in a second sound bite when the interview continued.

There is, of course, more troubling stuff: Many retailer images are shown during coverage of social unrest. Now with mass protests in dozens of cities, there can be less-than-positive images of big retail and other brands with their storefront windows being smashed.

One of the most glaring images has been the looting of the Macy’s department store in New York City.

TV news content, of all kinds, is something veteran TV news marketers have had to deal with for decades: They aren’t always controllable, nor should they be.

A separation between church and state -- business (advertising) and journalism (content) -- is still the goal.

What can TV advertisers do? What they have always done: Analyze current cultural environment and respond, pull, or adjust creative of TV media schedules.

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