Advertisers Are Getting Sneakier

Last week, I saw the movie The Switch. Afterwards, I got suckered into taking a couple surveys outside the theater. I was told that I could earn thousands of points just answering questions about TV shows on a machine labeled Nielsen, and I could use those points to pay my gas expenses for the next month. Well maybe not an entire month but at least a few miles. Thanks to my degree in Communication, I realized right away that this was a way for The Nielsen Group to collect more information about consumers that they can sell to all advertisers interested in TV.

Still, my love of all things media took over, and after three surveys I was hooked. But I was also tired so I wrote down the website so I could try to do more surveys from home. So far, I have almost 300,000 points on the website, known as RewardTV. Which brings me to the point of this post–advertisers are getting sneakier.

First of all, the RewardTV website does not indicate anywhere that it is affiliated with The Nielsen Group, so it is not immediately obvious that the site’s sole purpose is to collect information to make advertising more effective. Secondly, the way to obtain points is to take surveys regularly about various medias. The most common surveys ask about movies you recently saw or television shows that aired the night before, but every other question asks about how much you remember about specific advertisements that aired during the TV show or right before the movie previews. But not all the ads are obviously ads. Sometimes there is product placement, and sometimes there are phrases that actors slip in. Here are the top three sneakiest forms of advertisements I’ve learned about via RewardTV:

1. Chrysler car in The Office. Michael Scott, the regional manager in the show, drives a Sebring. However, this type of product placement has been going on for years, and is pretty easy to spot.

2. Camaro in SNL. Kenan does a skit where he talks about scenes from movies, but screws them up. In this skit, he casually adds a Camaro in one of the scenes. The only reason I picked up on this was because RewardTV asked me if I thought the use of the Camaro in the skit felt forced. Tricky.

3. Pepto-Bismol in Project Runway. Again, I would not have noticed this one if Reward TV hadn’t asked. At the end of the most recent episode, the judge Nina Garcia remarks that one of the outfits looks like the color of Pepto-Bismol. Did this seem natural? Yes. Was it sneaky? Absolutely.

I’m not a big fan of advertising. I realize it’s become a huge part of our culture and America in particular has become so saturated with ads that I think we often don’t even realize anymore when we’re being sold a product. Advertisers now seem to be trying to find ways to get into our subconscious and force us into brand loyalty. (I realize this seems contradictory coming from a person trying to break into publishing, but there seems to me to be less underhanded ways of getting a person’s attention, and money).

Have you ever seen the show Mad Men? They’ve been doing it for years, trying to use psychology to become rich. But nowadays they are getting sneakier, so we must get wiser. Now, I’m not saying don’t consume any media. I love media. I love television and movies, and I even enjoy watching certain ads (for the entertainment value). But don’t let strangers pretend to know you and your needs. Research, be aware. And if you ever find yourself on RewardTV taking surveys in hopes of winning some enticing prizes (for me it’s the $10,000), tell them these ads had no effect on your perception of the product. That’s what I do.

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