YOU BET YOUR LIFE: The debut of ABC’s new sitcom, Cavemen, is presenting advertisers with an unprecedented quandary, according to a story in Advertising Age magazine. With the show’s Oct. 2 debut rapidly approaching, one crucial segment of the ad-buying market seems to be edging away from any commitments to buy commercial time on the comedy that began its life as a series of popular spots for insurer Geico.
“Insurance can be a category where we want to make sure we are differentiating ourselves from the others,” said Liz Daney, senior VP-chief media officer at Interpublic Group’s Fitzgerald & Co, who do the ad strategy for Geico competitor Aflac. “So naturally, being in an environment that has all of the additional assets from Geico behind it – we didn’t want to put our dollars there.”
(As an aside, we should probably be grateful that it wasn’t the Aflac duck that got its own show, though Ben Affleck will probably spend the rest of his life turning around with a red-faced glare, looking for the guy who just quacked at him in the lineup at Starbuck’s.)
Other media buyers weren’t so polite. “Why would you want to put your ad in somebody else’s ad?” asked Gene DeWitt of DeWitt Media Options, who handle the media strategy for New York Life. “Basically, the whole show is a program-length commercial.”
Industry leader State Farm said they hadn’t made a decision yet about whether to run ads during Caveman, and a spokeswoman from Progressive said that the company tends “to be cautious about new shows because they don’t have a proven history.”
Even Geico sounded suspiciously unenthusiastic about buying commercial time on the show that, even without any creative participation from the company, will always be associated with the show and its Neanderthal characters. Geico’s plans for the show “have not been firmed up yet,” said Ted Ward, Geico’s VP-advertising.
As ad strategies start leaching into actual content, this problem will doubtless lose its vaguely comic novelty. The Ad Age piece notes other recent – and successful – ad campaigns, such as the CW’s flexible-length commercials, Nissan’s intimate association with NBC’s Heroes, and MTV’s willingness to turn over whole blocks of programming to shows that blur ad and entertainment for clients like Axe deodorants.
“Clearly, without question, this is the way of the future,” Michael Yudin, managing director of product placement experts Carat Entertainment, told Ad Age. “It presents a great challenge to everybody.” Which means that the future of TV will look like an episode of Aqua Teen Hunger Force, albeit with a Hormel Meatwad, Burger King Frylock and Ben & Jerry’s Master Shake, at which point actual commercials will wither away like a useless, atrophied organ.