THEike millions of Australians – if you go by audience numbers – I have spent a lot of time watching reality TV this year. In all of these shows, from dramatic rose ceremonies, nail-biting immunity challenges or remodeling room revelations, there is a consistent recurring character: the sponsor.
This is where they serve a microwave-ready meal on a date that promised a home-cooked dinner. It’s the app that allows construction workers to record construction faults, forcing viewers to learn more about plugging and waterproofing than an average couch man will ever get. need to know. It’s seeing hungry adults on the verge of tears in front of an orange four-door ute. Product placement is everywhere, and it’s so, well, awkwardly obvious.
Where we once saw participants on a reality show filming an ad for dishwashing liquid or spotting a food delivery bag strategically placed on a coffee table, reality sponsorship and advertising has now reached dizzying new heights – or maybe lows – where the subtlety is out and the shameless integration of the storyline is king.
While Chris Walton of media buying agency Nunn Media says product integration has âbeen a channel forever and a day,â he acknowledges that things have taken a notch higher lately.
âMore and more locally produced content from Australia is reality TV; it’s a kind of wall-to-wall reality. Outside of news, current affairs and sports, most of the night on TV is now a reality show of some description, âhe says. With this rise of a genre ripe for the #sponcon and the changing economy of Covid-19, production companies are enabling the kind of spruiking that could put even the most skillful influencers on social media to shame.
First, Australian Survivor, where viewers had a face full of close-ups of product in the middle of the show, as hungry attendees sang for their dinner at the behest of the show’s producers. Following a reward challenge featuring KFC buckets, a contestant recited the famous fast food giant’s slogan, asking his teammates, “Is that finger good, or what?” This same footage later appeared repackaged in a commercial break.
In a different challenge, another contestant explained how great it was that Tylenol allowed him to use shampoo for the first time in 40 days. As Media Watch host Paul Barry noted, product placement “is anything but subtle.”
Then there was The Bachelor, which won arguably the award for Most Outstanding Product Screenplay by working an MG car in one date with a woman who was “traumatized” by a previous car crash. Cue footage of the bachelor interacting with the car’s smart screen, telling viewers that “this car is full of safety features, so I hope she can relax and have some fun.”
The Block is also booming this year, with a couple using the online shopping platform Catch to send gifts to their young children and thanking the retailer for “connecting families.” On the road, another pair was fortunate enough to receive a workout set that led to an impromptu topless gym before, you guessed it, discussing the merits of their Catch transport on camera.
Walton says that despite shocking some viewers, the ad scripts are a huge hit with businesses as more traditional viewing habits disappear, taking commercial breaks with them. âIf you’re into content, no matter how people look at it, you’ll be seen,â he says. “Rather than just having a traditional ‘wham, bam, thank you ma’am’ ad, it allows a little more visibility for the brand.” In other words, 30-second TVC slots can come and go, but the built-in dialogue is forever.
And it doesn’t go away either. Again this week, Seven announced new projects that would use AI technology to “identify and label products in Seven’s most popular programs … [letting] people buy what they see on screen, not just supporting commercial content.
But Fiona Finn, advertising lecturer at RMIT, says the shift to in-content advertising comes with real risks.
“The AANA [Australian Association of National Advertising] the code is very clear on social media posts. In sponsored posts, social influencers are now required to use the #sponsored or #ad hashtag.
The same rule does not apply to product promotion on reality TV where the code reads: “Where advertisers have made marketing arrangements for branded products to be shown as product placement, and no no further claim is made on the products, no labeling or disclosure may be required. Even though consumers may not realize that advertisers have entered into a business agreement for their products to appear, the use of branded products may be sufficient to distinguish the material as an advertisement or marketing communication.
Finn is not convinced. “I think we all underestimate the social power and the potential danger of advertising.” She adds that the transition is “just the big brands moving around the ability of streaming services to cut advertising from the viewer experience.”
âEthically, I think we should all be worried about what we eat. “
The challenge, says Walton, is finding a level of subtlety that satisfies brands without annoying viewers. “If it goes too far, people will turn off, and if you piss off viewers, it’s not good for anyone.”