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Extension Satisfies AMC, Weiner

Extension Satisfies AMC, Weiner

J. Kristin Ament
Wednesday, June 10, 2009

This week, fans of “Mad Men” were treated to some real-life drama about the upcoming third season of the acclaimed AMC original series. Strangely enough, a television show about an advertising guy and his model wife set more than four decades ago may be at the forefront of new revenue models for television advertising.

So AMC had a problem. “Mad Men,” though a critical darling and Emmy award winner, attracts a relatively small audience (Hey, we’re a selective bunch. We don’t want the mouthbreathers who watch “I’m a Celebrity, Get Me out of Here!” to even know who Pete Campbell is, ok?). With increased production costs, including a higher license fee for Season 3, the AMC suits bluntly told Matthew Weiner and the show’s production team that they’d simply have to whack two minutes of programming from each hour-long episode so they could squeeze in another commercial break.

Well, that suggestion didn’t go over so well with Camp Weiner or fans of the show, for whom 120 seconds is a lifetime. Come on, Peggy found out she was pregnant AND gave birth in about two minutes. But, thankfully, everything was resolved this week in a surprisingly un-Hollywood, mutually beneficial way.

The solution? Add two minutes of advertising, but keep the “Mad Men” content intact, extending the running time into the next hour (Simmer down, DVR users. AMC figured out the technology to make sure that the machines know to keep going for the extra time). Seems an obvious enough solution, but a 62-minute program? For all of our lives we’ve been trained to digest 30-minute increments. Now, with traditional programming moving to online platforms like Hulu, the timing of our "regularly scheduled program” is becoming more fluid. Can we expect that, in the near future, the amount of content we’re given will be equally flexible, adjusted to meet the demands of changing ad revenue models?

As networks and cable stations struggle for every ad dollar they can squeeze out of the market, we’re seeing some other innovative solutions. The traditional notion of product placement, thankfully, may soon be extinct. (I’m looking at YOU, unspeakably awful “American Idol” Ford commercial). Now, scribes are integrating sponsored content in unique ways that fit the integrity of their shows.

NBC’s “30 Rock” spent one episode mocking product placement, while blatantly hawking Snapple, “Bee Movie” and Verizon (Yes, Tina, you can have your money now).

With less winking and nudging, TNT’s new drama about modern day Mad men, “Trust Me,” takes branded entertainment and product placement in a new direction. Though set in a fictional agency of Rothman, Greene & Mohr, the clients represented are real, and paying for inclusion in the content. Promotion for Dove’s haircare products included a storyline about the campaign, a cameo by one of Dove’s actual brand managers, and a Dove-sponsored online game where the user, in the role of a RG&M ad man, creates a campaign for Dove. Other companies paying for this kind of brand integration in “Trust Me” include Kellogg’s, Nike, Effen Vodka and Starbucks.

“Mad Men.” “30 Rock.” “Trust Me.” Is it a coincidence that we’re seeing innovative media and advertising models coming out of programs about media and advertising?

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