Sunday 11 April 2010

Media manipulation

Suppose it came to light that the execs of one of the major networks had put the word down through the organization that all shows should be aiming to hit targets of "pro-corporate" messages in order to make their sponsors happier. Nothing pro any particular brand, mind you. Just general "Ain't capitalism great? Look at how rich we all are compared even to how things were a couple generations ago! Life is wonderful! Celebrate human achievement and the great folks who help to make it happen!"

I'd expect nonstop coverage on CNN of Naomi Klein's gang with the cameras waiting for spontaneous combustion. It wouldn't be met with kindly.

But how many of you had heard this one?
In just one week on NBC, the detectives on "Law and Order" investigated a cash-for-clunkers scam, a nurse on "Mercy" organized a group bike ride, Al Gore made a guest appearance on "30 Rock," and "The Office" turned Dwight Schrute into a cape-wearing superhero obsessed with recycling.

Coincidence? Hardly. NBC Universal planted these eco-friendly elements into scripted television shows to influence viewers and help sell ads.

The tactic—General Electric Co.'s NBC Universal calls it "behavior placement"—is designed to sway viewers to adopt actions they see modeled in their favorite shows. And it helps sell ads to marketers who want to associate their brands with a feel-good, socially aware show.
The last thing I'd ever want would be some government agency overseeing and banning this kind of thing. But it's interesting what kinds of media manipulation draws outrage and what kinds are, well, mostly ignored.


  1. Is it really interesting that people like Klein (hypothetically) or yourself (in this post) only bleat about messages being inserted in media when the messages conflict with their ideology?

  2. @ac: There are like a billion other folks who complain about corporate dominance of the media. I mostly figure the media's giving the public what the public wants (Groseclose & Milyo is compelling). I'm just curious why the folks who think that media manipulation is such a terrible thing (again, I'm not one of them) only complain about the one kind, not the other.

  3. I guess I was too terse: they complain because they disagree with the messages being manipulated into the media. Maybe they also have a principled position for writer/producer/editorial independence, but there's way less motivation to blog, write letters or protest if you think the messages are innocuous or benevolent.

    So in this case, people who are in conflict with green ideology are the ones who will complain. Maybe you'll hear a little from enviro purists who object to what they might call the 'cynical use of populist green ideology as a marketing tool', but most greens won't care enough to make a deal.

  4. @ac: I agree that folks raising the principled objection usually are more motivated by disagreement with the message, and that that's the reason for relative silence here.