Advertainment is the large, grey , gross electronic world where your increasingly technologically based attention span can be reached in novel ways and manipulated to greater effect.
Now that new Personal Video Recorder technology (PVR) allows you to record, pause and instant-replay live television, consumers can fast-forward past commercials with reckless abandon. The popular TiVo model even has a "zap" feature that fast-forwards through 30-second spots with a click of the remote.
Not surprisingly, many users of this technology take advantage and avoid the ads. Statistics from CNW Marketing Research indicate that approximately 72 per cent of PVR users skip TV ads. And, according to a Yankee Group Media & Entertainment Strategies study, nearly one-fifth of all U.S. homes will be able to fast-forward TV commercials by 2007, eventually, to quote the report, "disrupting the entire value chain for television."
The adapt-or-die industry reaction to this has been more than just the increasingly sophisticated sponsorships of television programs like Canadian Idol running smarmy advertorials for L'Oréal. It has led to deeply integrated product placements where brands aren't just more visible but are often integrated into plots or introduced as characters.
Why watch the lame commercial for the Audi when you can see James Bond in his sexy new BMW? And don't you want a refreshing Coke when that guy from Queer Eye For The Straight Guy holds the can in that awkward manner?
Video games are next.
Last week, game-maker Electronic Arts announced a deal with A&M Records that places new tracks by the Black Eyed Peas into an upcoming version of The Sims, The Urbz: Sims In The City. The band is re-recording the tracks in "Simlish", the language of the game world. As well, the Black Eyed Peas will appear as characters in the game. Will.I.Am, Fergie, Taboo and Apl de Ap are depicted as musicians teaching players hip social moves and unlocking reputation-enhancing missions, according to EA.
"This is an unprecedented collaboration," says Steve Schnur, worldwide executive of music and audio at EA, as if it were a good thing. "Never before has a band gone back into the studio to re-record an album in another language specifically for a game."
EA is the same company that integrated Intel and McDonald's into the 2002 version of The Sims. You could buy a McDonald's kiosk in the game and sell the company's branded food products, earning "simoleans," the game's currency.
When Gran Turismo 4 for the Sony PlayStation, one of this fall's most anticipated video games, launches November 15, it will include more than 500 production cars. This is because car manufacturers realize that advergaming helps them reach a prime demographic that has become inaccessible through television.
Without traditional tracking mechanisms in place to help the media buyers calculate their return on investment, new tools are being developed by Nielsen Entertainment (the same people who measure TV viewership) in partnership with Activision. They plan to provide standardized metrics for advertising inside online gaming, particularly in the realm of MMORPG's (massive multiplayer online role-playing games) like Everquest and The Sims.
With perfect synchronicity, worldwide advertising powerhouse Young & Rubicam recently rolled out Bounce Interactive Gaming (B.I.G) to advance its clients' in-game advertising ambitions. And Toronto-based Cossette Communications recently launched its new Ricochet Branded Content division, because, says Jacques Labelle, managing partner of the division, in a press release, "Clients are constantly searching for a way to build a more direct, global and lasting relationship with consumers. Branded content allows for that to happen."
I was nine years old when E.T. gave the Reese's Pieces back to Elliott and retail sales of the candy increased more than 80 per cent. Of course, when I - like all the other whining kids - begged Mom to buy them for me, I only wanted to lay a trail of RPs outside our back door so I could attract an E.T. of my own. (Unfortunately, she didn't come until years later, after I started dating.)
I didn't know it then, but I left the theatre with high "product recall recognition" and brand awareness, converting Hershey's product placement into gold for the ad agency and, with my repeated whelping to Mom, for their client.
Today, I watch Apple's slick computers, Ford's clunky cars and a bunch of stoners making their way to White Castle and I wonder about integrity, honesty and the price of an auteur's soul. Product placement is everywhere, having leapt outside the constricting horizontal squares of billboards and buses and onto buildings, into our houses and then insidiously into our minds.
I wonder whether it's our own fault. If we were less sophisticated, less discerning and less aware of the miasma of advertising that is such a constant in our lives, perhaps that beautiful demarcating line between content and advertising would still exist. Alas, it's just a fanciful wonder today, because that separation is dead.