December 23rd, 2007

Blog it but don't flog it: ad man's new mantra

By Stuart Elliot
The Sunday Scotsman

Advertising about advertising has long been a popular ploy on Madison Avenue.

So, too, has the idea of ads that parody other ads. Now, with the increasing interest among marketers in embedding brands in entertainment programming, a viral campaign is arriving that spoofs the concept – while at the same time playing up the product.

The US consumer products division of L’Oréal is starting an online campaign – viral, because consumers are meant to pass it along – that sends up the concept of sponsors insinuating products into television shows, movies and video games.

The campaign includes a website, video clips and a blog. It introduces a line of hair-care products called Garnier Fructis Style Bold It, aimed at men aged 18 to 34. Because the intended audience is “extremely savvy when it comes to marketing,” says Pete Stein, senior vice-president and general manager at the New York office of Avenue A/Razorfish, which developed the campaign, branded entertainment was considered a target ripe for satire.

The campaign is presented to consumers as if Garnier executives had made a branded entertainment agreement with “a low-rent, three-letter broadcast network named after an animal,” as one blog post foxily describes it.

The deal ostensibly involved a new comedy, The Harry Situation, with innuendo-laden dialogue, and a companion website,

The premise is that the incessant, heavy-handed product plugs in the first episodes supposedly made a creator of the series angry enough to hijack the site and expose the excessive commercialism of his brainchild. His purported blog entries are supplemented by video clips that pretend to offer excerpts from the offending episodes of The Harry Situation and from meetings with network executives.

Also included on the website are mock memos from Garnier; fictitious reports of focus-group interviews with dim young consumers bearing names such as Ashley, Brandon and Madison; and summaries of the imaginary reactions of test audiences to the series.

The L’Oréal campaign partly bites the hand that feeds it, because products carrying the L’Oréal name are indeed incorporated into television shows such as America’s Next Top Model.

“It’s a little bit of a wink to the industry,” says Cheryl Vitali, senior vice-president for marketing for the Garnier and Maybelline New York brands at the L’Oréal division. “The challenge was not doing what’s expected.”

Viral campaigns are multiplying for the same reason as branded entertainment: the urgency among advertisers to find alternative ways to reach jaded, distracted consumers as technologies such as DVRs and iPods make it easier to avoid conventional pitches.

Traditional types of advertising such as commercials are passive and intrusive. By contrast, consumers decid
e to come to websites such as, visiting when they want, reading what they want and staying as long as they want.

The concept of the Garnier campaign required Avenue A/Razorfish and Gunn to produce a prodigious amount of content.

Garnier is not the first brand to parody branded entertainment. On the NBC series 30 Rock, advertisers such as General Electric and Snapple have lampooned the deals that enabled them to be written into episodes.

To allay concerns that the campaign will be dismissed as a flog – the derisive name given to fake blogs that do not identify themselves as sponsored – the Garnier site is liberally peppered with references that it is “brought to you by” Garnier Fructis Style Bold It. “If someone was fooled, even for a minute,” Gunn says, “we hope they’d get a kick out of the fact they were fooled.”


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