I have seen discussed on a few blogs the recent announcement by NBC that they will be producing television series that are directly financed by advertisers. These essentially take product placement one step further by having the story lines actually revolve around the advertisers product. A common comment I am seeing about this is how it is the “next step in sponsorship”, which is not really correct.
Ignoring some of the more interactive product placements where scripts have been change, show like The Apprentice existed solely as a marketing vehicle. A whole class of reality television shows and home improvement, or other lifestyle shows that exist because they are good vehicles for advertising, better than generic ads because people actually watch. None of these are fictional programming, however do you know how “soap operas” got their name?
Starting on radio back in the 30’s advertisers used to sponsor serials that ran daily during the day when housewives were likely to be home and listening. These shows were based on some dramatic pretense, the same as soaps of today, and would also show the sponsors product being used and contain sponsorship announcements. These radio plays (and later television shows) were written for companies like Proctor and Gamble, Lever and Colgate (Palmolive) who were very involved in the manufacture of various types of soap. The radio plays advertising soap became known as soap operas and the rest is history.
So this ‘new’ idea from NBC actually harks back to the earliest days of both serial drama and advertising.