The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Monday, March 09, 2009

On Cons, advertisers, & the CBC

By Tamara Lee

Faced with the likely $200 million shortfall the Conservative government has in store—a threat that’s been rumoured long enough that the list of current CBC brass seems to resemble a shareholder’s meeting more than a public cultural institution—big changes at the CBC are already evident.

If you watched a recent episode of Little Mosque on the Prairie, one of the public broadcaster’s most popular sitcoms, you would have seen what’s coming to a CBC media stream near you: Integrated Marketing.

"CBC director of marketing and brand activation Jamie Michaels [says], ‘This season, our doors are really open to advertisers looking for integration beyond the 30-second spot.'"

Not only do audiences have to hear that annoying “…starts now” announcer before nearly every CBC TV show, for Little Mosque, each commercial break begins with “Brought to you by [Insurance Agents], and now, even worse than product placement, inane advertisements are being scripted into the show. Season 3, episode 17, for example, (see the beginning of the YouTube Part 3 clip), offers viewers this sort of thing:

Scene: Open on a sign for [Insurance Company] above a storefront.

Smiling, benign Agent: Nice to see you, Amar. How can I help you today?
Amar: Well, I understand [Insurance Company] insures practically anything, right?
Smiling, benign Agent: Absolutely. As you know we have a range of home, auto, and life insurance packages. What did you want to insure?

In a show which creators and producers have prided themselves on for its remarkable characters, the smiling, benign actress remains nearly forgettable throughout the rest of the scene/plug. But her delivery, as wooden as a low-budget used car lot ad, cannot disguise the scene's purpose: to sell us something we don't need. Perhaps the actress was embarrassed; I hope the writers of said scene were. Certainly, CBC should be.

The value for advertisers this kind of marketing has is that, as an audience, we don’t have a choice about “getting the message." We can’t easily walk away from these kinds of ads, or fast forward past them. So while we may have gotten used to product placement in most media forms, with clever writers sometimes going all post-modern on us and referencing the obvious integration in an attempt to downplay it, what we see with this new form of integrated marketing feels much more like an affront to one’s intelligence.

It's very possible, though, that audiences will respond in kind: exhibit little regard for their intelligence, they may respond by not giving advertisers that option.

Unsurprisingly, this sort of advertising may be found on other, commercial, Canadian broadcasters, but seeing it on the CBC seems like another example of the Conservatives hurling their axe at Canadian art and culture. Yet in these money-strapped times, with a media industry struggling against TiVo, YouTube, and decreasing ad dollars, what’s a public broadcaster, with an unsympathetic government lording over it, to do?

As I swore off ever watching Little Mosque again, asserting my meek voice of disapproval, I perused the Friends of CBC website and came upon the latest CBC-related buzz, that the country’s public broadcaster is considering ad spots on two of its three radio streams.

Is there to be nowhere we can go without advertising being forced upon us?

(Image credit: The Peak)


Blogger Tricia Dower said...

You know, this sounds like the early days of television when performers like George Burns and Gracie Allen and Milton Berle did the commercials themselves during their shows. Everything old is new again, I guess. I haven't seen Little Mosque so I've missed the planted ads. It's a shame, I agree, but I understand the government is not prepared to increase their CBC grant.

Thu Mar 12, 01:09:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger Andrew Tibbetts said...

I hate planted ads. I make it a point to write down the products and NEVER purchase them.

Thu Mar 12, 03:06:00 pm GMT-4  

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