There was a bit of fuss over the MacGruber Pepsi spot during the SuperBowl this past weekend. At the heart of it, Pepsi bought advertising airtime during the SuperBowl and used a spot that wasn’t produced by their own advertising team, but rather a spot developped by the Saturday Night Live team that had the look and feel of one of their “fake ads”.
It’s interesting in that it makes fun of the source material as well as almost making fun of the product itself. But the issue isn’t about Pepsi using the SNL team and SNL ads to promote their brand – the issue is what happened the night before. A change in our media paradigm.
If you were watching Saturday Night Live last weekend (and I don’t know many who still do it seems), then you might have noticed the recurring MacGruber spots – one of which was used during the SuperBowl. They were inserted into the television show exactly like the usual parody ads run on SNL, but were not during the show’s run-time, instead being shown during paid-for commercial airtime.
While the network (NBC) Entertainment Co-Chairman Ben Silverman’s claim that the ads are distinct enough to not be confusing to the viewer during the SuperBowl can be believed, this is definitely not the case during the Saturday night running. On Saturday night, they felt like (typically unfunny) parts of the actual show, effectively in-show product placement.
When an advertiser tries to imitate the style of a newspaper or magazine article for print advertising, the print publication in question always encapsulates the ad with a “paid advertisement” block around it to distinguish editorial material from advertising. This seperation was not present in the MacGruber ads on Saturday night.
I’ve never claimed that Lorne Michaels hadn’t sold out already, but product placement already blurs the lines between editorial and advertising content, and this is definitely a step over that line.