The Applebee’s/CNN incident illustrates that standards that were once traditional regarding the way TV networks managed and maintained an environment for advertising have largely gone by the wayside.
This has been evident for years. Where content is concerned on TV today, anything goes.
As a result, no one today bats an eyelash when mainstream commercials for everyday goods and services are aired in the midst of TV shows whose sexual content and violence would have been shunned by advertisers long ago.
This is de rigueur on advertiser-supported basic cable and the broadcast networks, both of which traffic in sex and violence (although the content on basic cable today is by a few degrees more extreme than the broadcast nets).
With this permissiveness in mind, it is no wonder that some TV networks today are lax in policing the way their content interacts with their commercials.
If no clients or viewers ever complain about it, why should they expend any effort to keep an eye on it? However, some might say that news occupies a category all its own -- particularly when a news network is focused almost exclusively on a single story such as the bloody war in Ukraine.Moreover, most commercials are by their nature lighthearted. On that basis, the inappropriateness of positioning such spots in the midst of war coverage should be self-evident.
And yet, the all-news cable channels are taking the usual commercial breaks all through their ongoing coverage of this epic, fast-moving and tragic event.
In some ways it is understandable. This war story is likely to go on for weeks or months. TV networks have to make their money somehow.
But the placement of an Applebee's ad for its $1 wings offer on the same screen as an image of the beleaguered city of Kyiv, where basic food supplies are threatened, is in a class by itself.
To add insult to injury, the Kyiv image (pictured above) is much smaller than the one that shows Applebee's mouth-watering burgers and wings, thus communicating which of the two subjects is more important.
What's next? A mattress commercial sharing a screen with video of newly homeless Ukrainian refugees struggling to reach safety who have no access to the comfort of mattresses?
The Applebee's screen-sharing spot was reportedly spotted on February 24. And because somebody noticed it, it exploded on social media.
But it is also reasonable to guess that similar juxtapositions have turned up on CNN and possibly elsewhere since the war began, except that this one was noticed.
This “screen-share” technique is a relatively new innovation in intrusive TV advertising -- maybe only a year or two old, according to the TV Blog's often vague recollections.
It has been seen most often during NBA basketball telecasts at moments in the game when somebody behind the scenes deems the action to be slow enough to place a commercial that takes up about three-quarters of the screen and reduces the game to a fraction of its normal size.
These intrusions -- many of which are for commercials promoting gambling on the very sport they are interrupting -- are actually posted during play.
They seem to occur most often during foul shots, but not always. Regardless, it should go without saying that these commercials are insulting to sports fans who expect to see foul shots in the same manner that they see everything else.
But basketball games are not wars. The Applebee's blunder on CNN should never have happened.
So, why did it? Other commentators here have already hypothesized, rightly, that some of the blame goes to the manner in which advertising is placed these days.
For all anyone knows (outside of CNN), no human was involved in its placement at all. And if any human was involved, then this decision defies belief.
Part of the problem might lie in the church-and-state separation between advertising and news departments that has long been traditional in the news business.
The news department does its thing and the advertising department does theirs. In this set-up, newsies have no involvement in the placement of advertising.
But at the newspaper where I once worked, an editor or two was responsible for perusing the ad layout provided by the ad department before publication.
The appointed editor would look the layout over to see if any of the ads were out of sync with news slotted for the same pages.
One example of a scenario to be avoided was the placement of a display ad for an airline adjacent to a story package about a plane crash.
But that was the old newspaper business, where there was time each day to make these infrequent changes a few hours before the paper went to press.
TV news channels and news websites today do not enjoy the luxury of time when they are covering a fast-breaking story such as this invasion of Ukraine.
However, despite that challenge, they need to figure this out.
Boy how things have changed! In 1964, during my first days working at WNBC-TV traffic in NYC, and alone in the office in the evening (trying to get up to speed), I got a call from broadcast ops with the news that a commercial airliner had crashed and a decision had to be made about pulling airline advertising. Told I was the senior "reachable" sales department person, I crossed my fingers and instructed that the commercials be pulled. The next day I was congratulated on making the right decision and breathed a huge sigh of relief.
While I despise intrusive advertising (Hello, have you seen three ads per story on your own site?) I would rather have advertising (the needed source of revenue that actually pays journalists' salaries) running while the activity or action is still visible to me.
Yes, the basic topic is a valid discssion to make, but the so-called furor over the ad is ridiculoud. If the Russian invasion of Ukraine is such a massive global tragedy unfolding why are sports still taking place and shown on TV, why are comedy shows still running on all channels in their regular slots, and so on?
Why are news media, already doing more to cover news while being called fake news by traitors and undereducated stooges among the masses, being targeted for this dual standard? An advertiser placed an ad. The channel is obligated to run it. The war is ongoing for weeks, and may do so for months.
It's not like CNN switched a moment of some Russian tanks crushing people in cars, and switched to some burger ad at that moment. Let's discuss what may be the right way to handle such a war. Should all TV channels stop the daily work they do while the rest of us can continue to live our daily lives as we do regardless of what happens in other places on the planet?