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Public Service Announcements as Product Placement?


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This piece originally appeared on the Convergence Culture Consortium from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  Sam Ford blogs weekly there about soap operas in relation to fan cultures and innovative storytelling and marketing campaigns, in addition to blogging about many other new media issues updated multiple times daily.  You can visit his blog here.

I recently saw an interesting trend while watching As the World Turns, the CBS daytime serial drama.

One of the longtime characters on the show, Lucinda Walsh, has been diagnosed with breast cancer, and the show has frequently covered the real risks and medical procedures associated with the disease, followed by ending the show with a public service announcement.

In another recent case, a character who smoked and worked two jobs while pregnant followed several episodes with an ending PSA urging viewers to visit a Web site which detail the dangers of not taking care of one's self while pregnant.

This past week, the writers of ATWT went a step further in working a PSA directly into the storyline.

Dr. Bob Hughes was met at the hospital by his wife, Kim Hughes, who runs one of the major television stations in fictional Oakdale. She explained to Bob that she was had stopped by the hospital because she wanted to work on a PSA announcement for her station and needed a medical expert for the spot, clearly indicating her husband. She then went on to tell Bob that she was concerned about the continued epidemic of AIDS in Africa and had some startling statistics, which she read off to him.

Bob replied by saying that the numbers startled him and that, for the price of a cup of coffee, most Americans could probably make a real effort into testing and prevention education for these countries.

Kim said, "Now, if only I could have you come down to our station and say that on television. That's exactly what our viewers need to hear."

The self-reflexivity of the scene made me think that this might be more effective than just an end-show PSA announcement. Viewers wouldn't be able to as easily fast-foward through it, yet it was still worked effectively into the characters and their various stories.

While PSAs are different in advertisements in their purpose, they both still face continued danger of not being seen by consumers. So, similar to product placement in the fictional worlds, these embedded PSAs may start to take the place of the traditional end-show PSA announcements.

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