Madison Avenue Goes Back to the Future

Laney Cohen HeadshotThe Wall Street Journal recently reported on NBC’s allowing marketers to tack products on their programs promoting a cause, health or social issue, citing Campbell Soup as an upcoming sponsor for Today Show health segments in November and February.

This got me thinking – is advertising blurring the space between product placement and advertising? A throwback to days of yore?

In 1948, one of the most effective ways to reach consumers with strong product messages was by creating shows featuring products from a single company. From this concept came TV shows including; Kraft Television Theater, Colgate Comedy Hour, and Coke Time. Eventually, realizing they could make more money, networks switched to what we have today.

Back in the day, consumers – not having the breadth of information we have today – weren’t as “shopping savvy” and were unaware how influenced they were by these sponsorships. But now, we are a whole different kind of consumer and we have trust issues. Lots and lots of trust issues.

Will this new/old breed of advertising make consumers wary of a company’s intentions? It’s hard to say; but, if companies are going to be sponsoring segments, they must be clear the information isn’t just an opportunity to sell their product.

Enter public relations. We hear it like a broken record – building trust and reputation management – can make or break a product’s success. These sponsorship opportunities can’t be one hit wonders. Any additional communications these brands undertake, including advocacy group partnerships or social media activities, must be in line and prove to consumers that this isn’t just about the money.

The lingering questions: Will we begin to see fewer commercials and more promos? How strong will the linking between sponsor and segment need to be? The Today Show already has Willard Scott’s “Smucker’s Birthday” segment but, will these loose ties start to put consumers off?

Consumers are expecting advertisements to “sell” them. What will they think of these promotions? How will these brands remain transparent? If a television segment on health is sponsored by the same entity that is featured in it, will it cause a loss in credibility?

Companies will need to make sure they are not just over-paying for a sponsorship that will get them little return in terms of reputation management and brand recognition.

Pending some swing in this economy and the way people view television this is going to be the new future.

Laney Cohen is an account executive at Makovsky & Company in the healthcare department. She provides media trend analysis, program development, execution and media relations support to pharmaceutical biotechnology companies and hospital systems.

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