Rachel Shearer

December 16, 2005

Advertising and Television for Children

In two weeks, new FCC restrictions on advertising aimed at children were to take effect. However, AdAge reports today that broadcasters, marketers, and media companies have reached an agreement that modifies some of the restrictions.

From the article: "As originally adopted, the FCC's new children's advertising rule would have forced broadcasters to start counting program promotions in shows aimed at children under 13 against commercial limits of 12 minutes per hour on weekdays and 10.5 minutes per hour on weekends, essentially reducing available ad time. In addition, media companies would have been banned from showing Web addresses linking to pages in which program characters sold products. Finally, the rule would have limited broadcasters' ability to pre-empt children's programming. Broadcasters are required to provide three hours of children's programming a week."

The new agreement introduces some key exceptions, among which are:

  • Broadcasters can run program promotions in children's shows without counting against commercial time - if the promotions are for other children's shows
  • Program characters can sell products on websites as long as those individual pages are not mentioned during the television show

  • December 15, 2005

    The Fly

    An article on Slate yesterday examined why Leapfrog's Fly Pentop Computer is one of the most popular products this season. I found this article particularly interesting because the Fly is an educational toy that was designed for kids in the 8-14 age range, reminiscent of the products we had to design in CMS.610 for kids in the 5-7 age range.

    The Fly is basically a pen, "albeit one designed by Reebok," states the article.

    "It's got a battery, a computer brain, a software cartridge, a loudspeaker, and a headphone jack, all camouflaged by its rubber-gripped fatboy casing. You don't dock the Fly with your PC, nor do you download software for it, squint at a screen, or fiddle with pop-up menus. This is one gadget that makes you do most of the work."

    Among the programs offered by the Fly are a calculator, a music keyboard and drum machine, a planner, and a baseball game, each facilitated by the Fly's tiny camera that can determine what the user is writing or pointing at (when using the special "Fly paper" that comes with the pen). Extra programs, like Spanish and math "tutorware" can be purchased as separate cartridges. The pen talks as you write, giving instructions and encouragement.

    Like the products we designed, the Fly takes established hardware and expands the concept, building a new toy around an old one. According to the article, this is a big reason why the Fly is so popular right now - because the interface is so familiar, "it's as nonthreatening as a gadget can get."

    December 14, 2005

    DVRs and Advertising

    Last month a report issued by ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, the WB, and UPN argued that DVRs like TiVo would increase the audience for network programming. The report was an effort to allay fears that DVR technology would erode the audience for ad-supported television.

    However, new research suggests that consumers are purchasing DVR devices because of their ability to time-shift and their ability to skip commercials. The president of the group that performed the study states "...the consumers want to control not just what they watch and when they watch, but also the ability to avoid commercial placements."

    Twenty-three percent of all consumers polled said that they planned to buy a DVR in the next six months. So the networks may be right: the audience for network programming is increasing...but the audience for network advertising isn't.

    December 12, 2005

    The Writer's Guild on Product Placement

    An article on Wired today documents the frustration of television writers who are tired of mandated product placement and want additional compensation for writing commercial messages into their work.

    Last month, the Writer's Guild of America, along with the Screen Actors Guild, called for a "Code of Conduct" for product placement in television and film, citing "the public's right to be informed of such advertising." Statistics provided by the Writer's Guild press release indicate the rising rate of product placements in television and film:

    "Last year, the use of products in filmed entertainment increased 44 percent and generated revenues in excess of $1 billion. In television alone, product-related revenues skyrocketed a whopping 84 percent."

    The proposed Code of Conduct would include rules about disclosure of product integration deals and restrictions on product placement in children's media; but also at issue is compensation for writers and actors. Guild members believe that incorporating products into their stories is beyond their job description: "...along with being asked to create memorable stories and characters, our writers are being told to perform the function of ad copywriter." The whitepaper available with the press release calls for negotiation between producers and writers about additional compensation.

    If their demands are not met, the Writer's Guild threatens to involve the FCC because broadcasters are bound by law to make sponsors public.

    December 11, 2005

    On Vlogs

    The New York Times has an article today about video blogs (vlogs, or video podcasts on the iTunes music store), calling them "new media's favorite new medium." The article profiles several vlog creators - Amanda Congdon of Rocketboom formats her videos like news reports, while Michael Verdi and Charlene Rule (of Scratch Video) create intensely personal movies that are almost like journal entries.

    The advertising opportunities with vlogs are mentioned briefly. While most do not have enough viewers to warrant advertising, the most popular vlogs may prove to be very lucrative when advertisers warm up to the idea. Recently TiVo began listing select vlogs in its directory, allowing users to record vlogs to their television sets and the vlog producers to profit from advertising before and after their content.

    The article is fairly comprehensive and a good resource for someone who wants an introduction to popular vlogs. However, I think the article is overstating the mass appeal of vlogs when it says that "the rapid expansion in the number of vlogs and Web sites offering video podcasts strongly suggests how bored viewers are getting with standard commercial TV." The problem is that vlogs and commercial TV are very different. Vlogs are shorter, produced with a significantly lower budget or no budget at all, and are created by individuals (often just one or two people) rather than corporations. Most vlogs - like most blogs - are personal, created to keep in touch with friends, discuss a hobby, or document daily life; thus they appeal to a niche audience. It seems to me that (for now) people enjoy both commercial television and vlogs, and the growth of vlogging doesn't suggest a shift from a different medium.

    December 10, 2005

    Targeted Advertising

    A guest columnist at TalentZoo examines the relationship between clients, major advertising agencies, and smaller, ethnically focused agencies in an article entitled "Lost in Translation: Why so much multicultural advertising is still so bad".

    When large agencies use "targeted" agencies as "boycott repellent," the article states, but don't allow them to propose new ideas or changes to the campaign because of fear of going off-message, the result is ethnic campaigns that are stereotypical and even offensive. The reason?

    "Synergy, kids. Synergy. The images of ethnic folks presented by the targeted agency must be consistent with the preconceived notions of said ethnic folks held by the client/AOR/General Market consumer base. Otherwise, it's liable to make all involved think a little too hard about things other than the USP."

    Adrants offers a solution: trust. If the large agencies can trust that a smaller, focused agency can contribute something valuable - if they can trust that campaigns can and should be changed so to appeal to different groups - both advertisers and consumers will benefit.

    December 9, 2005

    The Blog Collective

    The Online Journalism Review has an article about blog collectives and their advantages for advertisers and the bloggers themselves. For the writer, a blog collective like Blogads makes his or her site visible to advertisers and works on his or her behalf to negotiate contracts and payment. Advertisers can rely on Blogads to recommend appropriate blogs for a particular campaign. "By joining together in loose or more rigid groups," the article states, "bloggers are beginning to appear on the radar of big business and advertising companies and present themselves in terms that big firms can finally understand."

    December 6, 2005

    iTunes and Video-On-Demand

    Apple announced this morning that they are adding 11 new television shows from NBC Universal to the iTunes Music Store. The new offerings include shows from the current season on NBC, the Sci-Fi Channel, and the USA Network. Past seasons of current shows and older NBC television series like Alfred Hitchcock Presents and Dragnet were also made available.

    The iTunes music store has move than 3,000 videos available for download (including music videos, Pixar shorts, and television shows). Steve Jobs, the CEO of Apple, asserts in the press release that Apple has sold more than three million videos in the first two months of the service alone.

    Over on Brand Noise, an entry today - ostensibly spurred by the Apple announcement - discusses the future of Video-On-Demand (VOD). Two points are clear:

  • Advertising will play a role in determining VOD cost
  • Programming shouldn't be limited to the VOD itself but include extra content for new and dedicated downloaders. Extra content will also provide opportunities for imaginative advertisers to reach a "finely-tuned" audience.

    Right now, the iTunes music store is the highest-profile provider of online VOD content and has so far resisted including advertising. When Apple does begin to include advertising (and I think it's a matter of "when," not "if"), it will be interesting to see how it is implemented - before the content in the style of movie previews, or during the content in the style of television? Who will benefit: the producer of the content, or Apple itself? And most importantly, how much advertising will viewers tolerate before they move on to the next product that allows them to skip advertising?

  • December 4, 2005

    Stanford on iTunes

    CNET News had an article last month about Stanford's iTunes initiative. Basically, Stanford has made audio (described as "Stanford-related digital audio content" on the website) available for download through the iTunes music store.

    To access Stanford on iTunes, you must go to the program website and follow the link on the main page (or click here).

    I get the impression from the article and the Stanford website that the service is primarily intended for alumni, even though anyone can download the files from iTunes. I find this a puzzling decision - is there truly a strong demand from alumni for university lectures? I would like to see Stanford make the page accessible from the main iTunes Music Store, giving everyone a chance to listen in.

    November 4, 2005

    Burger King, the Video iPod, and the "Cool Uncle"

    Last year, Slate featured an article about Burger King's revival of the King mascot that remarked on the mocking tone of the recent advertisements. In the article, Burger King's advertising agency describes the advertisements as trying to appeal to the elusive 18-to-35-year-old male market - the "most cynical consumers out there" - by evoking "the cool uncle - the uncle who tells you how things really are, and lets you get away with a little more than your mom and dad do."

    Today, MediaPost reports that Burger King, partnering with video download site Heavy.com, is sponsoring a series of free videos that can be downloaded and played on a video iPod. MediaPost calls the move "Madison Avenue's highest profile foray into the new medium yet."

    In an interesting move by Burger King, some of the videos are user-generated, created by Heavy.com members who were sent Subservient Chicken and "the King" masks to use in their videos. The first result? A short video that shows a young man (wearing a King mask and robe) repeatedly requesting a Whopper at a McDonald's drive-through, giggling all the while. I'm sure the "cool uncle" approves.

    October 28, 2005

    Star Wars and the Director's Cut

    There's a short article on CNN.com today (presumably inspired by the release of Revenge of the Sith DVD on Tuesday) about the changes Lucas has made to the original trilogy.

    The article touches upon what we discussed in class yesterday - Lucas alters his movies because he wants them to conform to his vision, but fans may like the old interpretation or their own interpretations better. And now modern creative tools allow dissenting fans to do the same as Lucas and alter the movies to make them conform with their own idea of what Star Wars should be.

    The end of the article discusses Star Wars as a transmedia property, saying

    In fact, some of those stories may not be his, anyway. One of the charms of video games is that the player becomes a character in the story, and technology being what it is, the permutations are becoming endless. So, perhaps, "Star Wars" has become a classic sci-fi multiverse conundrum, with alternate histories and varied points of view.

    ...Of course, my cynical side is convinced that in 10 years Lucas will make the old versions available for an extra charge. Star Wars Classic, anyone?

    September 26, 2005

    "Where Consumers Make the Ads"

    MediaBuyerPlanner links to a MediaPost article about Geico's new website that asks consumers to submit short movies about the Geico gecko for a chance to win prizes. The article states that it "may be the first marketer generated effort to create a large-scale consumer generated media campaign promoting a brand." Geico's website can be found at http://goldengecko.com.

    The article later mentions Adcandy.com, a website that features user-submitted ads and ad concepts. Wired has a story about the Adcandy website, calling it "open source advertising." Companies can subscribe to Adcandy and tap into what Adcandy calls the "collective unconscious of the public."

    I'm wondering what motivates the people who submit entries. Geico and the companies who subscribe to Adcandy probably hope that the user-created ads they see are the result of customer evangelism - customers who love a product and want to spread the word. But does offering prizes or other incentives also encourage submissions by people who simply desire to win, and don't feel strongly about a particular product? Would those kinds of submissions still be helpful?

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