Oliver Wendell Douglas would be proud. It appears the media world is going back to Hooterville. PlanetGreen, recycled from the underperforming Discovery Home and soon to become the Discovery Channel's latest network, will push a 24-hour slate of organic lifestyle programming. The Sundance Channel planted its own field of "Green" recently and National Geographic Channel also is poised to leap into the greenhouse with its own eco-programming schedule, according to employees there.
Who's next? Court TV forensic teams tracking down carbon footprints?
The networks are seeing green. It's an environmental thing, and a money thing. Last year, Wall Street shelled out $727 million to start up 39 alternative-energy companies. Merrill Lynch and JPMorgan Chase are forecasting huge price increases for rhodium, the metal used to cut tailpipe emissions. The networks likewise hope to reap a windfall of green advertising dollars.
The green revolution, ironically, is making advertising acceptable in places where it hasn't been welcome, opening the garden gate to branded entertainment opportunities. It's giving new meaning to "organic integration."
Lexus has already stepped up, integrating commercial messaging on the otherwise ad-free Sundance network by bankrolling tagged tune-ins, vignettes and interstitials, as well as a presenting sponsorship on the "The Green," touting new Lexus "luxury hybrid" cars and "eco-luxury" vacations.
The Lexus campaign, however, is traveling down a slippery slope. The campaign features such incongruous imagery as gleaming sheetmetal paired with greenery, and taglines that urge consumers to "indulge your senses" behind the wheel of a "vehicle with a V8 powertrain." But it also exhorts them to "respect the planet."
This effort hits a pothole that should be avoided - advertisers wrapping themselves in the flag, or in this case, the foliage, when it is pretty clear their products are the leading cause of all of our problems.
No doubt the airwaves on these greenhorn networks will be filled with lots of guilty-conscience commercials like the slick mea culpas perfected by the tobacco companies warning against the hazards of smoking: "Our products cause cancer (or global warming) so think twice before buying the crap we make. Meanwhile, despite the crap we make, we're really good people."
Consumers don't buy such nonsense.
The irony is that all this media activity will probably only succeed in camouflaging the rising temperatures it creates. There will be many more hot lights, cameras and crews poking about the ice caps to get those shots of drowning polar bears.
There's a valuable lesson to be learned here from the classic sitcom "Green Acres," featuring Oliver Wendell Douglas, the city slicker who moved to the country. Oliver was prone to standing on a soapbox to pontificate about the greater good and glory of farming and always lost his local audience. The farmers were quickly bored by the wacky zealotry of a wannabe who plowed his fields wearing a three-piece suit. Likewise, greenhorn networks and advertisers must steer clear of preaching lest their audiences lose interest. And despite the serious issues they are addressing, they should get a sense of humor. Programming a comedy block might help.
Richard Linnett is director of entertainment marketing at Fathom Communications. (firstname.lastname@example.org)