During one week of programming on NBC, detectives on "Law and Order" checked out a scam, a nurse on "Mercy" organized a charity bike ride, and both "30 Rock" and "The Office" sent out messages on recycling.
While product placement within shows and ad scheduling within pods is nothing new, NBC Universal is testing "behavior placement" within the content of some of its shows. According to the The Wall Street Journal, NBC is creating programming with a message in an effort to gain advertising dollars by matching the show's content with an advertiser's products. In the case of "30 Rock" and "The Office," the message is eco-friendly.
General Electric's NBCU calls this "behavior placement," and it's intent is to influence viewers to imitate and embrace characteristics or actions that they view characters performing on their favorite shows. In turn, this will be a big selling point for marketers who want to associate their brands with a show that's socially conscious and aimed at positive behaviors.
The goal of this content placement, a method similar to using content in social media, is that viewers will receive the message without the intrusion of a commercial break. Thus, when a cause is supported by a character, fans of the show will absorb the message in a meaningful way.
TV has always had the power to sway viewers, combining sight, sound, and motion to deliver messages that resonate, and most are well aware of the fact that when "our heroes" don certain fashions, hairstyles, or jewelry, and shop at identifiable stores, the public often follows suit.
The behavioral content effort isn't that new. Since 2007, TV executives have tasked producers to weave eco-friendly story lines into their shows annually. Now, one week in April and one in November are "reserved" for green-themed programming.
This year, NBCU will run 100 hours of programming that is positive for the environment. Bravo, an NBCU cable outlet, will feature an episode of "Millionaire Matchmaker" where a green-focused tycoon flips out after his date orders red meat during dinner. Understandably, perhaps, since his clothing line, 4-rth, (For Earth) is sustainable clothing.
Behavior placement provides advertisers with an incentive to market their products by using them within the confines of a sitcom or TV show in that viewers won't be able to skip, or delete, the commercials. Rather than being blatantly obvious with product placement (Think Coca Cola on "American Idol"), behavior placement is able to bypass the public's preconceived ideas about advertising while still delivering the message.
In 2007, NBC began "Green Week," the TV-based portion of their larger "Green is Universal" campaign. Based on data that shows consumers readily purchase eco-friendly products, it's estimated that Green Week brought in "$20 million in advertising revenue from 20 sponsors [and] new clients, including the nutrition bar Soy Joy."
NBC continued Green Week in 2008, incorporating the NBC Peacock into the mix. Rather than being multi-colored, the whole bird is green to further promote NBC's campaign and highlight it to consumers.
While the themes that NBC confronts aren't overly controversial, the network takes small facets of the overall campaign and addresses them. For instance, the network may not embrace PETA in their programming, but characters might adopt animals from a shelter rather than buying them from a pet store.
In the end, it leads back to the question of whether life imitates art, or vice versa. Maybe the pendulum swings both ways, with TV adapting to trends in people's lives, and people following trends they see on TV.
What this means, then, is that nobody really knows what's hot and what's not. It's anarchy, I tell you. Total anarchy.