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By Tom Cushing

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About this blog: The Raucous Caucus shares the southpaw perspectives of this Boomer on the state of the nation, the world, and, sometimes, other stuff. I enjoy crafting it to keep current, and occasionally to rant on some issue I care about deeply...  (More)

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Blurred Lines, the commercial

Uploaded: Jan 27, 2014
This is not a column about co-opting last year's song of the summer/pop earworm to promote a product (although I think Red Vines is missing a golden opportunity -- "you know you want 'em …"). Everyone from Led Zeppelin to Tiny Tim has done that.

Instead, let's talk about exploding cows. They, along with genetically modified chickens with eight delicious wings, figure prominently in a new comedy series called "Farmed and Dangerous" that will debut in February. What's interesting here (as if the cows were not enough) is that the series is produced by the Chipotle restaurant chain, and streamed to your TV by hulu.com. As such, it represents the next confluence of entertainment with corporate sponsorship.

Now, the involvement of advertisers in TV programming is part-and-parcel of American television, dating from GE Theater and Hallmark Hall of Fame in the 1950s. And who could forget which insurance company brought you their Wild Kingdom? In those cases, commercials from the company were interspersed with the content of the show. Indeed, any time a commercial airs on the networks, it is tacitly understood that the advertiser is underwriting the costs of bringing you the program, in return for the exposure it provides.

Commercial sponsorship is very big business, commanding as much as $4 million for a 30-second blurb on this week's Super Bowl. Still, the emergence of the DVR compromises its value by allowing the viewer to Fast-Forward through the commercial breaks. In fact, I have a friend who plans to tune-in to The Game an hour late this Sunday, just so he can enjoy it uninterrupted. He can catch the good commercials later, in the best-of compilations that are certain to air on Monday.

So, if you're an advertiser, how can you ensure that your message gets through? Product placement is one way that's been around for a long time. By making sure the hero smokes/drinks/drives/wears/shoots your brand, you create a positive association. If the product can be worked-into the script (like the famous crème sandwich discussion on ABC Family's Seventh Heaven), so much the better. There are agencies that negotiate those deals as their primary business, and product placement is effective enough that FTC once looked-into requiring that a disclosure statement accompany each broadcast.

Chipotle has taken it a big step further, if subtler. Part of their ongoing promotion relates to a commitment to serve food that has been "responsibly raised" – meaning no performance-enhancing drugs, as well as humane production processes. "Farmed and Dangerous" (hilarious trailer for the series here: weblink. No animals were harmed, etc.) is a satire on factory farming, designed to inform through its entertainment value (harking back once again to the superiority of story-telling over statistical advocacy). The restaurant does not figure in the plotlines, albeit the hero's name is Chip. To the extent that the audience internalizes the message of the show, Chipotle hopes that it will incline consumers to prefer its brand of Mexican food.

That's called "values marketing," which is used by other companies, as well. There are so-called socially responsible mutual funds for example, and most consumers can identify which car brand aligns itself with passenger safety. At minimum, this is savvy market segmentation, since values tend to remain pretty consistent over time. It also raises the real possibility of doing well by doing good. If Chipotle succeeds, more farmers will employ humane husbandry practices in order to supply its ingredients.

Furthermore, thanks to the magic of Internet streaming that expands choices and by-passes middle-folk, the message may be broadly disseminated for a relatively inexpensive price. Chipotle, which had earlier produced brief, more pointed cartoon videos that went viral, made these four episodes for a mere million bucks. That's equivalent to about seven seconds in Super Bowl standard time.

The newness of this phenomenon, though, gives it a slightly creepy feel. Is there danger lurking among the incendiary livestock? It seems to me that the FTC was on the right track -- disclosure is crucial. I am happy for someone to try to manipulate me, as long as I understand that's the game. That is, after all, what every commercial is about – and both they and I know it. I would also like to know who's behind this kind of content.

Chipotle's is a pretty benign message, at least to those of us who don't profit from industrial ag. But what if the program hails from Koch Brothers Central, or to be fair and balanced, the George Soros Network? Would you want to know those origins?

Once again, transparency is the key. Inevitably, we're going to get more entries like this new series admitted to the free marketplace of ideas – that's a wonderful thing, as long as we're also free to know from whence they came.


(My own disclosure: this column draws a lot of content from a NYT article, here.)

Comments

Posted by Arnold, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood,
on Jan 27, 2014 at 9:49 pm

Regarding your last blog that unfunded pension debt is nothing to concern ourselves about, I'll just say you're either protecting your political affiliation (Democrats that prefer debt deferral) or you are clueless. There is nothing comfy or cozy about ignoring our responsibilities to the tune of 100 Billion dollars as you claim - it is much worse, while expecting future generations to cover the cost of service we received.

I've read several of your blogs but this one, actually your previous one regarding pensions - because it disappeared before I had a chance to respond, is poorly researched and very disturbing. I don't think you have a clue regarding the magnitudude of destruction the many layers of unfunded pension liability will have at several levels of government, or the increased demands for taxpayer dollars in the form of: parcel taxes, special taxes, school bonds, transportation taxes, Fees, etc..

Apparently you do not understand the severity of the problem. You need to spend more time doing your homework. Otherwise, you're just part of the problem.


Posted by Tom Cushing, a resident of another community,
on Jan 27, 2014 at 10:14 pm

Hi Arnold: thanks for reading, and commenting. There is some confusion about where the blogs go, but they never completely disappear. As of this writing, the pension fund blog can still be found on the Top Blogs list, on the right side of the Town Square page.

Also, all the blogs written by each of us can be found by clicking on Blogs in the menu line, and then clicking on the title of the series you\'re seeking.

Because this comment really relates to that pensions column, I\'ve copied it over to that edition. I will leave this comment up here, but respond to your concerns over there.

If all else fails, you can find that article by clicking here: Web Link


Posted by Tom Cushing, a resident of Alamo,
on Jan 27, 2014 at 10:27 pm

If you are interested, here's a link to an interview with Chipotle's chief marketeer, regarding the company's strategy in developing its series: Web Link


Posted by Arnold, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood,
on Jan 27, 2014 at 11:04 pm

"Posted by Tom Cushing: Hi Arnold: thanks for reading, and commenting. There is some confusion about where the blogs go, but they never completely disappear. As of this writing, the pension fund blog can still be found on the Top Blogs list, on the right side of the Town Square page."

Thanks Tom, But the confusion regarding the negative impacts of unfunded liabilities - and pension debt, extends well beyond where your blog goes, or ends up. I've done my homework on these issues. You should do the same.


Posted by Tom Cushing, a resident of Alamo,
on Jan 28, 2014 at 7:31 am

Arnold -- I agree. The reason I moved your comment is because it makes no sense to have the pension discussion here, rather than on the blog to which it relates.

Now, if you go there, you will find my initial response on the merits of your comment. I hope the conversation will continue, there.

And by "there," once again I mean here: Web Link

So, what do you think about Chipotle's gambit?


Posted by Tom Cushing, a resident of another community,
on Feb 2, 2014 at 10:10 am

Annnndd, in a current case of life imitating art, cows are blamed for exploding a whole barn on a dairy farm in Germany: Web Link Their flatulence is said by experts to relate to their diets. Who knew?


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