EUReKa!…I think they’re on to something.

I love creative things. In particular, I’ve always loved science fiction (which gives writers a way to violate reality to serve their story ideas) and humor (which requires both creativity and intelligence to do really well). So when the SciFi channel launched EUReKA, a show that combines sicence fiction with humor, I quickly became a fan. Then they did something that, at the time at least, was creative in a marketing sense. They created a website that was a “we’re going to pretend as if all this is real” kind of thing, that somehow made the show that much beter. It was cool. The show was cool. And they were doing some pioneering work in how to use the web to market a show.

Season Two just started, and they have pulled off yet again another innovative idea in marketing – they’ve blurred the lines between product placement and conventional advertising, and in the process have forged something new, different, and in many ways, pretty scary.

When you factor in the paradigm shift technology of the DVR, there’s no way that you can believe that TV adveritising isn’t in for some big changes. Back in the day, advertisers could rest assured that their ads would be seen (unless, of course, you figured in breaks for bathroom and/or snacks). Today? Not so much. When John Q. Public can skip ahead 30 seconds at a time, no commercial break is safe. The best advertisers can count on is getting an “impression” of no more than a second or two. Technology has turned the economics of television upside down. Originally, programming was the spoonful of sugar that advertisers offered to get you to take your advertising medicine. But the kids have figured out how to duck out from taking the medicine, and still get a full spoonful of all that sugar. Something’s gotta give.

Enter EUReKA – a show that is willing to boldly go where no advertiser has gone before. Where many shows are content to have characters drink a Coke or a Pepsi (instead of yesteryear’s generic cola’s with packaging created by the show’s art director), EUReKA takes things a half-dozen steps further. They make it a plot point from an entire story arc that, in order for the town to justify it’s own existance, they’ll take on corporate sponsors (Degree antiperspirant is the first such willing co-conspirator). They don’t just show some actor using the product – they slap the Degree logo on the backs of characters, and add special effects magic, just to make certain we don’t miss the point. Cut to a commercial, and we watch one of the series’ regulars extoll the virtues of the same product.

The entire thing was handled with a deft, tongue-in-cheek touch. In a way, they’re having their cake and eating it too…they are poking gentle fun at product placements, while enjoying the revenues of the same. (Now THAT’S chutzpah!) But I wonder how long their innovative approach will stay innovative – or on the air. Think back to a dozen years ago or so, when Energizer’s perapetitic bunny rolled into a spot for a different, albeit real product (a product which just so happened to be owned by Energizer’s corporate parent), the technique was met with howls of protests from other advertisers. How dare Energizer agree to take their brand equity and allow other products to bask in it’s glow! Why didn’t WE think of this first! How can we level the playing field? Legislation was quickly proposed. Energizer quickly pulled the ads. WIll EUReKA’s innovation see the same fate? Stay tuned…

Regardless of the outcome, EUReKA is out in front in the search to find a way to get advertising messages to the public, without allowing them to be Tivo’d to death. I don’t know how things will turn out, but one thing IS for certain. The days of TV commercials as they were, are numbered.

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