Thursday, April 8, 2010

Behavior Placement: TV tells us what to do and what to buy


We’ve recently been discussing the power of celebrity, in particular the imaginary relationships we form and maintain with media figures. Sometimes those relationships provide the motivation to use a particular product or cut your hair in a way that emulates the celebrity, among many other possibilities. NBC television appears to understand the potential influence of television characters and the stars that portray them as they enter into a Faustian bargain with marketers by including politically and socially correct messages in programming, something they call “behavior placement.”  Behavior placement, according to an article in The Wall Street Journal, is not unlike something we’ve talked about – product placement. The idea is that by including politically or socially correct ideas, like going green, within storylines the network wants to kill two proverbial birds with one stone: they want to influence behavior, and they want to use these ideological positions to sell advertising. The article describes one scenario where a hybrid vehicle is featured in a particular dramatic context. Including something that subtle may be appealing to hybrid automakers that may, on that very basis, choose to buy advertising time during the program. The network has announced they will include within regularly scheduled programs features on healthy eating and exercise. Again, scenarios are being written into scripts in order to create a symbiotic relationship between what the viewer should do (exercise regularly) and what the advertiser wants the consumer to do (purchase Healthy Choice meals). This sounds a lot like propaganda to me. NBC, I guess, can feel good that they are touting ideas about health and the environment, but their motives simply are not pure. I’m curious to see if I can pick up any of these idea “placements.” But I guess that means I’ll have to actually pay close attention to what’s on the scene; something I really don’t like to do.

9 comments:

Kara said...

I think it is interesting that this new trend is designed to sway viewers to adopt actions they see modeled in their favorite shows. I think NBC and any other national stations that adopt this trend should be extremely cautious- since it helps sell ads to marketers who want to associate their brands with a feel-good, socially aware show, but can also send the wrong message to younger viewers. While it is a good idea to spread the "going green" message to viewers of all ages, we do not want viewers to associate recycling with a funny character on the Office that no one takes seriously. Saving the environment is a serious issue- and maybe this is not the most effective way to sway viewers to "go green" if it is projected jokingly on primetime TV.

Amanda Kelly said...

I, too, have noticed behavior placement in TV shows. For example, characters are looked down upon by other characters for not recycling, or for displaying homophobic behavior. While being environmentally friendly and accepting of all sexual orientations is something I find personally good, the networks are still persuading people's behavior in a certain direction. If it can be done for good things like helping the environment, it can also potentially be used for harm - what if a TV show made children think that they don't need to go to school? Or how about if a TV show had subtle political-themes that could be used to skew people's political opinions. Certainly people should not be manipulated so subconsciously, especially by TV programs.

Travis O'Neill said...

Television has been trying to influence us since its inception, but NBC's move to promote better behavior is really taking things to another level. I think the two major shows on NBC that use behavioral placement are The Office and 30 Rock.

Even if it doesn't involve good behavior, The Office has always found clever ways to plug in products. Back in its second season, Kevin got a new shredder from Staples, and was showing off to the camera all the cool features. He then accidentally shreds his credit card, showing off the countless items the shredder can destroy. After the scene, it went straight to a commercial for Staples. Similarly, a Christmas party's most desired item was an Ipod, followed immediately by Apple's catchy commericals.

30 Rock seems to have taken behavioral placement and put a nice sarcastic twist to it. Al Gore and David Schwimmer (Green-Zo) go overboard in terms of recycling, Kevin tries to force Liz to get rid of her mimi fridge, and also tries to cut 30 Rock's power bill by 5%.

But overall, these shows seem to be going for comedy more than influence. Most are jokes about how obnoxious it might be to go green, so the overall message might be lost by most viewers.

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304364904575166581279549318.html

Bimmordino said...

Though it may seem as propaganda, I do not know if that is NBC's exact intent. Living in a media based society, it is clear that we imitate subconsciously a lot of what we see or hear around us. With that much power I would hope NBC would be aware of how they are positioning themselves, but its also in the eyes of the consumer to really follow what it is the station is portraying.

Colleen said...

The television is a powerful instrument for influence and change. The messages it disseminates have often been hidden under humor or through dramatic scenes. On the contrary, some messages are so bluntly suggested that they are not taken seriously at all. However, NBC’s form of behavioral messaging takes this practice to a whole new level. In the case of encouraging people to go green: I think this is a great message; however, it should certainly be sent in a serious manner rather than a comedy-filled scene. Similarly, healthy eating is something our country needs to be conscious of and concerned with; I think that NBC has the power and potential to promote healthy living and can bring about positive change. With this power though, comes the chance for abuse. I think behavioral messaging is something that needs to be monitored so that it does not bring about abuse of power or negative effects.

Caitlin said...

I think NBC sees what they are doing as a positive movement to influence their viewers about environmental issues. Right now sustainability is an important issue and NBC is taking advantage of its trendiness.

I understand that this propaganda can be looked at as a negative aspect of television. How far is too far with major corporations telling you how to think and manipulating you. But as long as long as NBC is using its "powers" in a good way to create more awareness for going green then I do not see the harm.

No one wants these corporations telling us how to think or influencing us and children in a negative way. There needs to be a line, however, per usual that line is blurry. I do not watch really any shows on NBC, so I cannot specifically say where/if I have ever seen them do this. However, I watch ABC and MTV regularly and I will start to pay particular attention and see if I can notice patterns within these television stations.

Laur said...

I think the concept behind NBC's behavioral influence is a good one and I also think NBC is pure in their intentions. However, I believe they are more interested in making money than they are in spreading a positive behavioral change in American society. By including ads correlating to their messages, they're simply using the power of television to their advantage. You can’t really blame them for that…

With that being said, yes, behavior placement is propaganda, but it's not negative. In other words, it's not designed to mislead - it is however designed to persuade... but is that not what advertising is? (Keep in mind that synonyms for propaganda are promotion, publicity, and advertising to name a few.) I see a very subtle difference between ads in a magazine with a celebrity promoting a product or idea and behavior placement.

I feel that as this trend catches on with other networks, it's going to become more of an issue, kind of like subliminal advertising. If networks start using behavior placement as a political stage, I can see this getting messy. Conversely, if networks stick to topics along the lines of healthy living and going green – topics that tend not to bring much opposition - then this will be a non-issue… in the sense that it won’t be seen any differently than another form of advertisement. Of course, there’s always room for concern with any and all advertisements, but that’s a different subject.

amgaither said...

The thing I find ironic about both product placement and behavior placement is that most people do not catch it until other people bring it up and it is then when you notice. Some people are really good at spotting out that stuff, for the rest of us we are probably not paying enough attention (like multi-tasking) to notice. I was reading a blog recently and they were talking about the Lady Gaga video Telephone and the author said after the video she had a weird craving for a sandwich with Miracle Whip (one of the products shown in the video). This made me think that it definitely affects us on a subconscious level if we do not even realize we notice it.

On one hand NBC is using their power as an influential network to help us live a greener healthier life, which actually positive on their part. Are we only influenced because they are positive and socially acceptable? What if some other network wanted to do behavior placement on something negative? Behavior placement is bittersweet. In NBC’s case, they know they can have an effect on people and they are promoting health, because so many people are unhealthy. The message is more powerful if you see it on your favorite television show, than if your doctor tells you, you need to start eating healthy.

This is also a win for advertisers, especially those who make healthy/ green products (or have healthy/green in their name). If a character from the office starts driving a hybrid, and then right after the show the hybrid is advertised it is going to have an effect on the consumer that watches The Office and he or she might consider getting a hybrid for his or her next car.

mlimbach said...

NBC has approached advertising in an interesting way- one the I find I have conflicting feelings towards. Of course people are going to be influenced from 30 second ads if their favorite celebrities are endorsing a service, product, or action. The 'go green' movement has serious perks. It is an issue that needs to be taken more seriously considering awareness is low. By spreading the word in a way that may influence behavior could potentially be an effective method of approach. For the time being, I am settled to believe that NBC's approach to 'behavior placement' has been a positive one; however, its actual affect is still waiting to be observed. If NBC and other national stations stay within appropriate boundaries with advertising in their commercials/shows, then there is no reason as of yet to assume the negative affects. Time will tell