TV has gotten mighty sneaky about trying to sell us stuff. Realizing that viewers don’t actually like to watch commercials, television networks and their pals over on Madison Avenue have come up with some clever ways of getting us to absorb ads in the past few years. There are the title sponsorships, now common in sports broadcasting (the “FedEx Orange Bowl,” the “VISA Halftime Show”). There’s the rash of “embedded” commercials (Randy and Simon grinning over jumbo-sized cups of refreshing Coca-Cola on “American Idol,” NBC working Subway into several plotlines of its Monday night show “Chuck”). There’s even been a movement to “micro-size” commercials, adding more commercial breaks during a show, but reducing their length from the industry standard two minutes and two seconds. (“We’ll be back in two and two,” as Chuck Woolery used to say on “Love Connection.”)
For better or worse, we’ve gotten used to these tricks. But now comes a trend that is just plain confusing: burying commercials inside of commercials. If you’ve spent any time with your old pal the Idiot Box in the last month, you may have noticed some. A commercial for Geico insurance suddenly morphs into a commercial for Helzberg Diamonds, with the Gecko ogling a shiny engagement ring at a nearby restaurant table. (“A Helzberg diamond? They must have saved money on their car insurance,” says the hapless CEO character in an attempt to tie the whole clumsy thing together.) A plug for the new Disney film Tron: Legacy, meanwhile, is shoehorned in the middle of a Progressive insurance spot. Spokesperson Flo’s bubbly pitch is interrupted, for no apparent reason, by images of a glowing Jeff Bridges. Product placement inside of product placement? What gives?
These crossover commercials are what the ad industry calls “double dip” advertising. They’re basically the TV commercial equivalent of a time share condo. They’re also a sign of today’s incestuous corporate world.
Helzberg and Geico are both wholly owned subsidiaries of Berkshire Hathaway, Inc. (as are See’s Candies, Fruit of the Loom, Benjamin Moore, The Pampered Chef, Acme Brick Company, Pacific Power and about 60 others). Berkshire Hathaway is owned by a dude named Warren Buffett. Maybe you’ve heard of him. Apparently, he didn’t get to be the third wealthiest man in the world by buying two commercials when one is sufficient. I wonder if he wanders around corporate headquarters turning off lights.
Progressive insurance, on the other hand, appears to be independently owned with no direct ties to the Walt Disney Company (which owns such media makers as ABC, ESPN, A&E, Pixar and Marvel Entertainment). Apparently, somebody just thought it would be cool to combine insurance and video-game-inspired action movies.
It’s that sort of “corporate synergy” that makes you question the intelligence of today’s advertising geniuses. Are these people still downing three-Martini lunches like on “Mad Men”? Because I fail to see the crossover potential. Is Progressive now offering insurance on Light Cycles? Are people watching these commercials supposed to say, “Hey, I should rush out and buy some car insurance and a diamond ring!”? Maybe I don’t understand modern advertising, but I’d call that a bit of a stretch.