I have to admit, my eyes aren’t what they used to be, so I don’t know if I would have caught the “subliminal” McDonald’s flash on an episode of Iron Chef America in real time. However, when you watch Pajamas Media’s slowed-down clip, there is no mistaking the big red sign and yellow writing telling us someone out there is “lovin’ it.”
Now, according to the blog at Broadcasting & Cable, the Food Network has stated that the McBlip was nothing more than a “slight technical problem,” which is totally old school for “wardrobe malfunction.” Anne Becker at B&C adds, “Still, it’s not totally implausible, in an age of rampant DVRing, that networks will soon resort to short subliminal ads to meet advertiser demands,” which would scare me if it wasn’t for the fact—as I already pointed out—that the old rods and cones are aging and I’m just not seeing it. Becker also points out, “Clear Channel has already begun running one-second radio ads called ‘Blinks.’ The client whose jingle they used to demo the product? McDonald’s.” OK, now I’m getting a little scared. And paranoid.
Let’s juxtapose the McBlip with the completely shameless and totally in-your-face advertising on Bravo’s Top Chef and see how they stack up. Note that I said “advertising,” because what that show has been doing goes way beyond simple product placement. I’m going to ignore Top Chef’s standard sponsors (Toyota, GladWare, and Kenmore), since the very fact that they are announced as sponsors in the show’s bumpers puts them in a different, honest, almost acceptable category. Moving on from there, just last week we had an episode that was dripping with Nestlé and Calphalon products, and the week before, the Quickfire ordered the cheftestants to create dishes using one of four named Kraft ingredients. Then there was the Bailey’s-saturated cocktail challenge. And the TGI Friday’s Elimination challenge. Sure, all of them are food or food-related, but I really don’t think that is any excuse to shove them so severely down our throats.
For the most part, the Food Network is refreshingly free of product placement. Alton Brown eschews it on Good Eats, I can’t remember Paula Deen ever brand-name-droppng but maybe I just can’t decipher her accent, and Rachael Ray famously goes to elaborate lengths to cover up cans, boxes, and bars with her own homemade labels.
Back in the day, we used to giggle over television show sightings of the label-free pop cans because they were so obviously Diet Coke or Pepsi. It became something to point out and laugh at in the “How stupid do they think we are? That’s obviously 7-Up—look at the bubbles on the side!” kind of way. But now, so many television shows cram in brand name after brand name to such a degree that advertisers might need to rethink their strategy. Soon enough the public will become desensitized to such placement, and where would that leave them?