Earlier today, I wrote about the new Live with Regis and Kelly promotion with Walgreens for a 3D episode on Halloween. In that case, Walgreens was not planned to circumvent the usual advertising for the show but rather to help promote and provide the glasses for 3D viewing for that special event. In many other cases, though, a sponsorship model increasingly means limited advertising for a show.
The latest to get some attention for moving toward a sponsorship model is Mad Men, the AMC series actually focusing on the advertising industry. The season finale of the critical hit show will be commercial-free branded as being brought to us by DirecTV.
Claude Brodesser-Akner with Advertising Age writes:
It might seem counterintuitive for a hit drama set in the go-go world of an early 1960s Madison Avenue advertising firm to ditch its ads, especially since the show inked a noted product-placement deal with Jack Daniels whiskey earlier this summer. But its creator, producers and financiers all say it's their fervent hope that "Mad Men" will eventually go entirely commercial-free. And for a variety of reasons owing to audience demographics and viewing habits, its creator's inclinations and the mess that is the Nielsen ratings, they might just be right.
The article includes points about how the show has been very sensitive to not letting its being about the advertising world overtake the show with product placement, trying to strike the balance between product placement that seems real and organic and noticeable distractions from the show.
The sponsorship model is hardly new, though, and it has become increasingly prevalent. A variety of shows that launched this season had the first episode brought to us with limited commercial interruption, thanks to some benevolent sponsor. I've increasingly seen cars become more prominent in shows, and the limited commercial interruptions in the season premiere of Heroes coincided with Nissan vehicles becoming more noticeable parts of the show, and Chevrolet sponsored the series premiere of Cane on CBS.
The master of this sponsorship model so far, though, has been FX, who has used the sponsorship model for many series premieres by now, including a couple of season premieres of Nip/Tuck and the launch of new series like Damages and Dirt. On Damages, Cadillac--who sponsored the first episode, which was otherwise commercial-free--continues to play a prominent role, since two of the major characters drive Cadillac vehicles.
See my previous writing on the sponsorship model with Cadillac/Damages, Pontiac/Dirt, and Sony Pictures/Nip/Tuck. Then there was the CVS sponsorship of World News with Charles Gibson, which I wrote about back in May.
The sponsorship model is becoming more and more viable since I first wrote about the FX experiments back in 2005, but as I point out in my previous piece about the Dirt deal, "Really does take you back to the early day of television, except this example gives much more credit to the viewer that they can get the message that Pontiac is presenting the show without having to have reminders throughout, as with the Texaco men on Milton Berle. Really, it feels more like corporate donor messages on PBS than an advertising gimmick, which may help grant some goodwill for Pontiac."