BROOKE GLADSTONE: And here's another quote from Turner Broadcasting's Jamie Kelner in Cable World magazine last month. He writes: The free television that we've enjoyed for so many years is based on us watching commercials, but there's no Santa Claus. If you don't watch the commercials, someone's going to pay for television, and it's going to be you. We asked Kelner to come on the show. He said no, adding that he was concerned that the public was hearing comments he had intended for industry ears only, and his message to the ad industry? -- we need a new business model, and we need it fast. Scott Donaton is the editor of Advertising Age and has been pondering the options available to ad agencies in the era of the zappable commercial. Scott, welcome to the show.
SCOTT DONATON: Thank you. I'm glad to be here.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So commercials have always been zappable, or I think the current expression now is zippable. What really is the big change here?
SCOTT DONATON: Well there's always been something of a leap of faith or at least a feeling that if you're watching TV, for example, and, and you zap a commercial now -- in other words you change the channel -- that you're watching something else then. You're watching another program or you're watching another commercial, and that somehow it all comes out right in the end. And, and I'll admit that that's always been something of a squishy science. But what we're really talking about here are digital technologies that really allow you to just eliminate the advertising completely, and the answer that a lot of advertisers seem to be coming up with right now is -- if they're not going to watch the ads, then I have to figure out a way to integrate my marketing messages into the program itself.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Product placement. Well that's a very old tactic. It dates back to the beginning of television. Have they updated it, or is this just old wine in its original bottle?
SCOTT DONATON: They've updated the language. They call it product integration now instead of product placement, but really what's ironic here is that you have on the one hand one of the most advanced technological changes ever that really switches around the whole television model. And on the other hand, the most creative answer that the ad industry has come up with so far is: hey, let's go back to what we were doing in 1950.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Well we've heard in the - we've read in the New York Times that NBC's version of The View called The Other Half has male hosts with guests from Clorox and Hyundai, and, and we've heard that Rosie O'Donnell ate a Wendy's salad on her show. Where else is this stuff showing up?
SCOTT DONATON: It's starting to show up in, in reality programs. Survivor did a lot of this with Target and some other advertisers. In some cases the advertisers' product would become the reward that the survivors got if they completed a certain task. And we're also beginning to see it inside of scripted programming -- Will & Grace did something with X-Box and Microsoft. Even a couple of years ago CBS did something to promote Elizabeth Taylor's perfumes by, by building a search for the black diamonds into their various TV shows. So it's really starting to spread to films as well.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Excuse me, I'm just going to take a delicious sip of Mountain Dew.
SCOTT DONATON: Enjoy.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:[DRINKS] Ah! [SETS DOWN CAN] Now in a recent column in Ad Age you wrote: Product integration deals are clunky and unnatural. They will surely be rejected by consumers who will no longer trust the advertiser or network that presents them with such transparent dreck. And then you put in parentheses -- this may be wishful thinking; the success of televised celebrity boxing matches proves millions of people enjoy transparent dreck. So which is it? Will we buy it, or won't we?
SCOTT DONATON: I really still have some faith in the viewer. I think that this basically is a perversion of what the media model has always been which is you created great content that was either an entertaining program or an informative program and then advertisers basically leveraged that relationship that, that the program had built with the audience. Here what you have is, is people beginning to talk about developing scripts and programs first and foremost around the goal of selling the advertiser's product and with a secondary goal maybe of entertaining or informing the audience. And I've got to believe when you really start to have this being, you know, one of every 5 shows we're watching and then one of every 4 shows we're watching, I think people are going to get fed up with that pretty quickly. The other thing is I think a lot of these programs that try to start with the advertiser in mind first are just going to be awful. We saw it with -- Coca Cola did something two summers ago called The Young Americans and Coke was so over the top in the product placement -- every time something happy was going to happen in any character's life, they grabbed an ice cold Coca Cola [LAUGHTER] and what happened was the show bombed.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:So what happens if advertisers ultimately lose faith that putting ads on television is effective? What happens to television and where does that ad money go?
SCOTT DONATON: It's almost impossible to think about actually because right now most advertisers still spend 70 or 80 cents out of every ad dollar on television. It's seen as by far the most effective medium to advertise to large groups of people. So it would really change all of mass marketing as we know it. It would radically transform it, and, and the answer is there is no place else for that money to go. There's, there's places for some of it to go. You could say that more money would be spent on internet advertising or in magazines but if in fact television was ever to not be a viable advertising medium -- and I don't think we'll actually reach that day -- but if we did, it would, it would ultimately really transform in a radical downsized way the advertising business as we now know it.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: All this from a TiVo.
SCOTT DONATON: All this from a TiVo.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Thanks very much.
SCOTT DONATON: You're welcome. Thank you.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Scott Donaton is the editor of Advertising Age. [MUSIC]
by Pink Floyd