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Soon, everything will have marketing twist

Feb. 14, 2001

Imagine watching Friends with your buddies in the dorm or cafeteria and commenting on how stylish the decorations on the set look. Usually you pay attention to the jokes on the situational comedy, but tonight's show highlights something new, yet you never figure out what is different by the time the show ends.

The answer, spelled out in Adbusters magazine, is not pretty.

The enhancement to Friends' decorations came about after a true-to-life scenario made possible by a partnership between an advertising agency and a television production company. The deal between J. Walter Thompson, the second largest advertising agency in the nation, and Basic Entertainment, the company that produces Politically Incorrect and Just Shoot Me, might sound like just another corporate merger, but it is much more. The goals of this new company called JWT are not to simply have some celebrity endorsements, or ads on TV, or to place a product in a movie scene. JWT aims instead to participate in the 'creative development of all forms of programming from inception to execution.'

Translation: This company will produce television shows that not only have ads between segments, but the shows themselves will be sponsored, corporate advertisements.

Creative talent from JWT will work with writers and producers to craft shows that will feature plots revolving around a certain brand of soda, or maybe a war show will be sponsored by the Army Surplus company, or a hospital drama be paid for and created by an HMO.

This should cause you to pause. Wasn't the TV show for entertainment and the advertisements between the segments designated as time for the sponsors? The tables have turned and now the sponsors are entertaining.

But is it still just entertainment, or has advertising infiltrated what we thought was purely fun? This boundary is crossed with this company, as it was in the episode of Friends where the Pottery Barn bought an episode. It sounds crazy, but the Pottery Barn paid enough that the Friends characters would spend all of their show surrounded by the products including couches, dishes, and other home decor.

Marketing can be a noble and creative line of work, but what is going on here is dangerous. The entertainment industry is getting an influx of cash, while the advertisers are getting a new market. But what about the people in the middle? It is the home viewer of television who innocently watches her favorite Sunday evening programming that is hurt. Gone are the days when pre-schoolers learned that the ABCs stand for apple, ball and cat, and here are the days where ABCs stand for Apple-Os, Beanie Babies and Cheerios. We'll live in a world where the streaming infotainment will be a 24-hour-a-day marketing tool designed to sell products.

The university experience teaches me that I must be a thinking, questioning creature. As someone who struggles toward that ideal, I wonder about the righteousness of a company that has a Web site with the logo 'the art of creating convictions.' Where can I sit and think quietly? What show can I watch and not be attacked by sneaky, well-placed advertising?

To combat this advertising power, clear a place in your life where advertising can't touch. Put some tape over all of the logos you see and refrain from wearing clothes with logos on the outside. Turn off the TV and radio. Close your eyes and listen.

Sit and enjoy the mental silence, free of advertisements and full of pleasure.