Knock Knock (Chapter 2)

Jenkins’ second chapter in Convergence Culture reveals the history behind American Idol and the huge PR machine it really is. I have never watched American Idol because a.) I don’t have a TV and b.) I don’t like to hear people sing at the top of their lungs constantly, which I have noticed to be the case when hearing excerpts from the show played on the radio. Don’t people sing softly anymore? That’s one thing that MJ was killer good at. You know who else could sing softly really well was Karen Carpenter. Alas, digression . . .

Advertising has come along way since it started out with a goal to sell more product. I’m sure that at heart, all advertising will serve that purpose but it has evolved since then. According to Jenkins (and other sources I’ve read long ago and forgotten the names of), the goal of advertising now is to make you feel warm and fuzzy all over when you are confronted with a given brand name. “Coke! I remember that Coke used to sponsor American Idol. Man I loved that show! I’ll never forget that time when. . .” or “McDonalds! Man, my dad used to take me to Mickey D’s every Saturday to get the Big Breakfast. Man that was awesome! Sometimes he would even let me get a Danish! Dang I wish they still had those things . . .”

Being confronted with a successfully advertised brand will bring warm fuzzy feelings of nostalgia. Hopefully. You may have your occasional outliers who, you know, found a chicken head in their McNuggets, or something like that. Jenkins mentions that AT&T received a bit of backlash when people realized that American Idol was pretty much fixed from the onset (at which point I’m thinking, “Seriously people, did you really think you had a say? Why? Oh wait, the TV told you . . .”), but then AT&T got the iPhone and at that point Satan could have become their main spokesman and no one would have cared.

The main takeaway from this chapter was that Madison Ave realizes that most of us don’t really want to be advertised to. Or do we? Here comes the next move in the chess game between consumers and advertisers. “Well! We’ll just figure out some slick way to make you come to us!” and my how it has worked. Sure, we watched the Superbowl for it’s commercials, but that’s not what we’re talking about now. Jenkins references The Apprentice as the perfect incarnation of this strategy. Here, Donald Trump assigns the contestants the task of figuring out how to promote a real product, and the real product gets promoted before our very eyes! And this is the show, not the commercials. And we love it! Jenkins references a Proctor & Gamble exec who observed that not only was their toothpaste promoted on air, it was woven into the plot in such a way that the viewer actually ended up rooting for the new toothpaste for the sake of the contestants. Genius!

But is any of this really new? I suppose that Donald Trump has taken product placement to a whole new level but it has been around a while. Neither is it a new development for brands to seek to capture the consumers’ hearts. Disney has long been the master of this game. The Disney brand name has been invited into the homes of consumers for decades. They have protected the image of that brand name meticulously and few if any have anything other than those warm and fuzzy feelings associated with it. And their work has paid off to the point that now they have built quite an empire for themselves. (This is a list of the companies Disney has 100% of ownership of, in addition to being part owners/large share holders in GE, TiVo, a petroleum company, etc.)

Who else are you inviting in?

Sources

Jenkins, H. (2006). Convergence culture: Where old and new media collide. New York: New York University Press.

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