American Culture

Vampires and late-night TV spots

by greg stene, phd

Okay. It’s 3:21 in the ayem. The bright digital numbers in the dark tell you that. The generalized anxiety of impending death sometime in the next three decades or so (if the game gets played out that long and some bus doesn’t take you out while you’re on your way to the life insurance company offices to add another $50K onto the policy) … slammed your eyes wide open and you know, like so many other nights before, that there’s no sleep coming just by hanging in bed.

The only way out of this is to let the TV work its early-morning trank-effect on you with the white noise of meaningless dialog and visuals.

So, you lay yourself out on the couch in front of the living room TV. Maybe sleep will come again … if we just let some news drone on …

Youp. Look at that. It’s become 6:00 ayem, and Angel, the show about an angst-ridden vampire in L.A. has come into its second straight hour of early-morning play. Good old TNT. They’ve been running two-hour sets of this spin-off from Buffy, the Vampire Slayer for quite a while now. Comforting. You watch, even if you know the words by heart. Joss Whedon, the creator and general Maker of the series, and his team have an incredible ear for dialogue, quick cultural snarkies, and always some nice, original concepts to develop a show around.

And, you’re a sucker for vampires and zombies. Don’t want to be meetin’ one, don’t want to be eaten by one. But if they stay where they are, you’re happy to have them in this world. Nothing better than watching a zombie hulk around mumbling, “Brains.”

So, you’ve given up on sleep. It’s vampire-time. Angel, the conflicted vampire, is trying to sort out his relationship with his vampire love of his life, we’ve just wrapped a major fight scene, and …

And right at about 22 minutes into Angel, there’s a commercial on. It’s for V8. Jugs of it. People drinking glasses of the red stuff, just like Angel the Vampire, drinks blood from a glass.

The ad for V8 is apparently (coordinated? sponsored?) by a group called, which appears, according to their Web site, to be a part of the Buchanan Group. Looking at BG’s site, they seem to be built on the belief that brand and product education of consumers from a third party perspective may be the way to help encourage consumers to make brand choices favorable to the advertised brand.

At least this appears to be the message you read in their “About” page.

Now, you’ve got nothing against V8. You kind of like the idea of drinking vegetables. And nothing against Brand Power or the Buchanan Group.

But … vampires? And V8?

* * * * *
About a decade ago, I wrote a book on advertising that I never really tried to sell. I should have. One of the chapters dealt with media placement. In it, I suggest that with the increasing use of computers in media placement, ad agencies will be able to connect with the databases of various media outlets and determine if a competitor had already bought space on a page in a newspaper or magazine near where the agency wanted to place a client’s ad.With that knowledge, the agency could then quickly make a very informed decision about whether they wanted to appear in that publication, and where.They’d be spending money smartly. One of advertising’s Holy Grails.Now, just a quick question … how much cultural knowledge (forget the computers, that’d be too damned easy if they were used well) … how much cultural knowledge does it take for a media expert in the U.S. to know that Angel is actually about vampires, not angels?

And how much does it take to decide to not place an ad for V8 on a program about vampires that drink gouts of flowing blood?

One of the big questions for everyone in the ad business today, is not just what will you say to this new market of discriminating buyers, it’s where will you find them to say it to them. In other words, media selection for ad placement is not just a matter of showing up in the mass media … it’s showing up in places where the target will be.

There’s an extension to that sentiment … show up in places where the target will be, and won’t not freaked by the fact that you’re there, also.

Greg Stene has a hard decade in the advertising business as a copywriter/creative and strategist. He’s seen money well-spent, and money wasted. He knows what makes for the difference. He also teaches advertising at Wichita State University, with a total of 10 years or so in university teaching. His research specialty is in creativity. His wife’s an award-winning graphic designer, and as a team, they’re a creative/strategist boutique in traditional and new media.

E-mail Greg here.

3 replies »

  1. Do you mean there might be a future out there where I don’t see dieting ads during that episode of “Intervention” dealing with annorexia and bulemia? Or how about rodeo and circus commercials on Animal Planet? I realize that the latter is probably the result of a braindead local cable provider inserting their own ads, but still …

    I have to admit, though, the V8 ads during Angel have me craving a V8 all of a sudden. It’s so off that it’s on. That’s priceless.

  2. You are assuming that the V-8 placement was unintentional. I’d think that the subliminal connection that a consumer might make would have it stick in their mind a bit longer than usual. And maybe an astute fellow might notice and tell their friends about it for cheap word-of-mouth. There’s no such thing as bad publicity and all that.

    Either way, welcome to S&R!

  3. I just can’t bring myself to drink V8 after seeing the context of the programming that surrounds. I watch Angel in the morning, too. (Beats CNN these days …)