The first one was subtle. Maybe you noticed it was running in an ad break, maybe not. Maybe you detected the absence of the NBC logo normally on screen during “Saturday Night Live.”
Maybe it just seemed odd when “SNL” cast member Will Forte’s MacGyver-like MacGruber character paused to sip a Pepsi while using found materials to defuse a bomb that, as always happens in “SNL’s” “MacGruber” bits, blew up in his face. Kaboom.
So you figured there must have been a reason Forte’s soda can would figure as prominently as “SNL” castmate Kristin Wiig and “MacGyver” star Richard Dean Anderson, in a cameo reprising his 1985-92 TV character. And then it hit you. Ka-ching.
“It was very clear that it was a commercial, and I thought for our audience it was fun. I don’t believe it compromised the integrity of ‘MacGruber,’” Lorne Michaels, the impresario who launched “SNL” in 1975 and shepherds it today, told Advertising Age of the stunt co-opting the long-running character.
The second cola advertainment - “MacGruber” sketches tend to up the ante in terms of absurdity over three short installments - had MacGruber changing his name to Pepsuder. Kaboom and ka-ching. The third had Forte saying nothing but Pepsi over and over again. Kaboom and ka-ching.
As for the integrity of “MacGruber,” such as it may be, it could have been worse. At least the character wasn’t buried with a feature film. “The Ladies Man,” anyone? “It’s Pat”? “Coneheads”?
America definitely got a taste of something on Super Bowl Eve, and it wasn’t just the carbonated caramel-colored sugar-water. There was just a hint of desperation.
Media companies are hurting for many reasons, not the least of which is the fact their advertisers are themselves strained in this recession. The need to find to innovative new ways to make money has everyone rifling through everything they have on hand, much like MacGyver, to avert disaster.
NBC Universal parent General Electric, for example, recently announced that its fourth-quarter profit fell 43 percent from a year earlier. NBC Universal’s sales slipped only 3 percent, thanks to cable TV growth offsetting local TV ad declines. And this is a common tale for media concerns. News Corp. just last week said it lost $6.4 billion in its most recent quarter.
Necessity is the mother of invention, and regular ads and product placement aren’t enough. So you see talk-show host Conan O’Brien, who leaves NBC’s “Late Night” this month and takes over “The Tonight Show” in June, in a beer ad that debuted during his network’s Super Bowl telecast. ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live” works sponsors into material that’s part comedy, part ad.
In the case of “SNL” and “MacGruber,” selling out a character that had probably exhausted its usefulness is a small price to pay to peddle commercial time at a premium for the buzz it creates and the way it stops people zapping through ads dead in their tracks.
The trick for any media outfit is in knowing what it can truly afford to commercialize and what will wind up costing it and its reputation in the long run. “These are perilous times,” Michaels said, later adding, “I’ll do whatever is necessary to support the network.”
Kaboom and ka-ching.