Discuss the phenomenon of digital media convergence in relation to Advertising & New Media.
In the current media climate, advertising seems to be something that is virtually inescapable. Advertising industries have evolved, leaving advertising companies “dissatisfied with the uncertain performance of ‘old’ media” (Spurgeon 2008 pp.27). This is largely due to the evolution of the Internet, which is now a significant force in media and advertising flows. Dwyer (2010) defines ‘media convergence’ as “the process whereby new technologies are accommodated by existing media”. In the case of advertising and new media, the Internet plays the role of the new technology, being ‘accommodated’ into the existing media of the advertising industry. Sheehan & Morrison (2009) use the term “confluence”, which is perhaps more apt in describing convergence in the case of advertising and new media. They define a ‘confluence’ as “a place where things merge or flow together… the situation where traditional methods of work adapt to embrace the new reality of interactive content” (Sheehan & Morrison 2009).
Advertising can be split into two forms, ‘informational advertising’ and ‘creative and persuasive advertising’ (Spurgeon 2008). Informational advertising “appeals to reason and usually addresses the fulfillment of human needs” whereas creative and persuasive advertising “seek[s] to influence purchasing decisions by indulging human emotions and wants” (Spurgeon 2008 pp. 24). This is critical, because appealing to the ‘emotions and wants’ of people drives the way advertisers promote their products. They try to find new ways to reach their audience by ‘creatively embedding’ (Spurgeon 2008) their advertisements in media that their audiences are more than happy to consume.
This is the concept behind product placement, the most common example being when advertisers pay for their products to appear in a movie or television shows. Sometimes the appearance of product placement is very well concealed as a natural part of the movie, so the audience may not even notice they are being advertised to. One such example is the Disney Pixar movie franchise ‘Toy Story’, which contained advertisements for many toy brands, which seemed to fit seamlessly into the movie. The product placement was of toys in the child’s room, and the movie is solely about the adventures of toys, so this didn’t seem like something intentional that you would notice right away as a consumer, until you come to the realization that everything in the entire movie must be intentional since it is an animated feature. Product placement in Toy Story 3 alone was extensive; it included Apple, Barbie, Corvette, eBay, Fisher-Price and Sharpie (BrandChannel 2010) among others. In other instances product placement can be very obvious.
An extreme example of this is in the 1992 film ‘Wayne’s World’. Wayne’s World is supposed to be a satirical comedy, having originally developed as a skit on Saturday Night Live. A lot of movies can’t avoid some form of product placement, and Wayne’s World takes advantage of the fact that they need to incorporate some level of it by blatantly flaunting it for comedic effect.
This concept has been taken one step further, where companies have now taken to producing entertainment with the sole purpose of advertising their product, known as “branded entertainment” (Spurgeon 2008 pp.40). One particularly prominent example of this is the branded entertainment produced by BMW. The car company created an entire series of short films using famous producers, directors and actors to advertise their cars on the Internet (Spurgeon 2008).
Taking this further still is advertising for a very specific target audience through branded entertainment. ‘Dating Rules from my Future Self’ is a 2012 web series produced by Alloy Entertainment, an established and trusted entertainment company that also produces popular television shows such as Gossip Girl (Wharton 2012). This show is made with the same quality of a television show, but it is split into small episodes for the Internet web series format. A romantic comedy, it is obviously targeted at the predominantly female audience traditionally associated with that genre, and the sponsors take advantage of this. The show’s premise, characters and storyline are all aimed at this particular demographic, and each episode contains quite obvious, almost shameless product placement and advertising. Each episode is brought to you by a different sponsor, and usually whichever sponsor’s name is on the episode from the beginning features their products throughout. For example, in episodes that are brought to you by the car company Ford, you can be sure that the character will be driving around in her Ford Focus and utilizing the voice recognition features the car offers.
Ford and the constantly shown Apple iPhone, which happens to be almost central to the plot, are possibly the only product placements in the entire show that are not specifically and exclusively targeted at women. Product placement from sponsors throughout the two seasons of the show include the Schick® Quattro for Women® TrimStyle® razor, Revlon Top Speed™ nail polish, Garnier® hair products and Bioré® skin care products. The sponsorship takes a bizarre turn in the last episode of the second season, when the episode is brought to you by a film that is going to be released later in 2012.
Companies choose carefully what to sponsor and where to have their products appear in order to keep a reputation with consumers, and this kind of advertising shows this. As d'Astous & Séguin (1999 pp. 896) point out, a “sponsor is likely to gain goodwill by associating itself with a popular program targeted to a selected audience”. This web series is a perfect example of this. ‘Dating Rules from my Future Self’ shows attractive, intelligent, vibrant young women using particular products in their everyday lives. The storylines and characters the show attracts are exactly the target audience for the show, and sponsors recognize that if they want to reach that target audience, this show is how to do it because it is more than just an advertisement, but actual entertainment that their target audience will happily seek out themselves and consume. In this way, this show is the epitome of digital media convergence in relation to advertising. It shows convergence between television, advertising and the Internet to produce a very specific and effective form of branded entertainment that audiences actively consume.
- BrandChannel 2010, Product Placement in Movies, Product placement in movies released in 2010, Interbrand, New York, viewed 30 August 2012, <http://www.brandchannel.com/brandcameo_films.asp?movie_year=2010>
- d'Astous, A. & Séguin, N. 1999,’Consumer reactions to product placement strategies in television sponsorship’, European Journal of Marketing, Vol. 33, Issue 9, pp. 896 - 910
- Dwyer, T. 2010, Media Convergence, McGraw Hill, Berkshire, pp. 1-23
- Sheehan, K. & Morrison, D. 2009, ‘Beyond Convergence: Confluence Culture and the role of advertising Agency in a Changing World’, First Monday, Vol. 14, No. 3, viewed 29 August 2012, <http://firstmonday.org/htbin/cgiwrap/bin/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/2239/2121>
- Spurgeon, C. 2008, ‘From the ‘Long Tail’ to ‘Madison and Vine’: Trends in advertising and New Media’, Advertising and New Media, Routledge, Oxon, pp. 24-45
- Wharton, D. 2012, ‘Web Series Dating Rules From My Future Self Takes Retro Approach To Romance’, Television Blend, viewed 30 August 2012, <http://www.cinemablend.com/television/Web-Series-Dating-Rules-From-My-Future-Self-Takes-Retro-Approach-Romance-38290.html>