Last night I watched the much talked about “Family Guy Presents: Seth & Alex’s Almost Live Comedy Show” on Hulu. Up until a few weeks ago the show was to be commercial-free sponsored by Microsoft’s Windows 7. Microsoft pulled out of the deal a little over a week after the October 16th taping after reviewing an early version of the special. So what happened?
In the spirit of “Family Guy”, the aired version of the special had jokes about the Holocaust, deaf people and a lot of reference to self-pleasure. No surprise there. So why was the controversial content a surprise to decision makers at Microsoft who had originally touted the “subversive and unique humor” of Seth MacFarlane? Did they really have to see a preview of the show to know that the content “was not a fit with the Windows brand?”
It seems as though many advertising agencies, including Crispin Porter Bogusky who brokered the Almost Live deal, fall victim to a sort of ethereal ideal of the “big idea”.
David Ogilvy came up with the concept of the “big idea” in his much referenced tome “On Advertising”:
Crispin did a great job in doing some upfront research. On the surface, “Family Guy” is a winner. In the 18 – 34 male demographic (which is considered the most desirable demographic for advertising), “Family Guy” was considered the highest rated scripted TV program. It was also rated second among males 18 – 49, according to FoxBusiness’s November 2008 article “Seth MacFarlane’s $2 Billion Family Guy Empire“.
So what went wrong?
In the section Ogilvy introduces the “big idea” he says, “Big ideas come from the unconscious. This is true in art, in science and in advertising. But your unconscious has to be well informed, or your idea will be irrelevant.” Ogilvy stresses the importance of the pursuit of knowledge and relevance in relation to the efficacy of the “big idea”.
Even Ogilvy understood that “the wrong advertising can actually reduce the sales of a product” and wrong advertising is one that is created under what Ogilvy considered the “cult of “creativity'” by forgetting about doing your homework about the product and ignoring relevance of the advertising to the product.
According to Advertising Age’s article “Are Family-Friendly Shows a Better Environment for Ads” (November 4, 2009), Brian Steinberg confirms that according to a recent study by ANA Alliance for Family Entertainment, “the type of show in which a commercial airs can hinder or help the effectiveness of that advertising. Running an ad in a show that matches its tone and provides appropriate context can boost ad effectiveness by an average of more than 30%”. Yes, ad relevance is extremely important especially in light of the intention of the audience of the show that the ad is being run in; think context.
A “Family Guy” audience member may be of the correct age and sex, but what is their intention and mindset while watching the show? Just think of how you might react to the same thing in different contexts. Let’s say someone says an off-colored joke, perhaps not too dissimilar from a joke in the “Family Guy”. Now if you’re out at a bar with some good friends who you know are not really prejudiced, you might laugh. Next consider if you’re meeting someone’s parents for the first time and you hear the same off-colored joke. How are you feeling now?
I applaud the Microsoft decision makers who pulled the plug on sponsorship of “Family Guy Presents: Seth & Alex’s Almost Live Comedy Show”; the Windows 7 brand is not a fit for the show. Unfortunately, the Agency representing Windows 7 should have done more homework and reigned in their “creativity” a little better. I believe it falls on the Agency, the guardian of their client’s brand image, to be more diligent before presenting an idea to the client, big or not.