This morning we talked about Fox trying to make their ads more interesting by having sponsored stories of real people overcoming bad situations. I’m all for that, because we need more uplifting stuff. But while you’d think the next step would be the return of fully sponsored shows (which would still be impossible for local small businesses, the real victims of a lot of these attempts to alter advertising) there is another way. What about if the advertising was in itself content. We’ve seen wacky ads but what about ads that actually have something that people would come back to for the next chapter or a short adventure that people might tune in for. It’s been done. In kids advertising.
I know, parent groups hate when something is marketed to kids because kids are stupid and easy to manipulate and totally not because said parents don’t want to be asked to buy something while they’re not doing anything of real importance but I want you to hear me out on this one. What I’m going to be showing tonight are only inspirations for what could be done. See, while some of you out there in the universe look at something like He-Man And The Masters Of The Universe or Transformers and see shows meant to sell toys (while happily waiting for the next Mobile Suit Gundam series and not seeing the irony because that’s not how it started) even as a kid I saw “good, fun stories that happened to be based on a toyline instead of a book, comic, movie, or prime time TV show”. So when I would watch these ads below that’s also what I saw. Some of these things I never even bought (or asked my parents to) but the ads to me were little action shows while I waited to see how Turbo Teen was going to turn into a car while locked in a freezer or something. (I think that was a cliffhanger. Ad breaks cliffhangers are also part of what got me into being a storyteller myself, something to do during the commercials.) It helped that I also grew up with Schoolhouse Rock, basically an edutainment short that popped up in commercials but felt like just another cartoon. Let me show you the base ideas and then go into how Fox or others could use some fiction alongside the uplifting tales of overcoming adversity.
The Crest Team
The most blatant form of course is outright product placement, which is what ads often do, but it’s usually done tongue in cheek. The Crest Team ads from Crest is a good example of integrating the product to the adventure. (For the record I only use because they make cinnamon and I hate mint…actually right now I’m using a different brand; anybody remember Close Up? Yeah, they still make that.) No, I’m not expecting you to take the actual story presented seriously. I mean their siren is just some woman yelling “Crest” or “Crest Gel”. As a kid though I totally took this as a 30 second adventure tale as a floating city dealt with monsters trying to destroy their wall because they’re major architecture critics. Now expand on this. The tooth wall is actually keeping them from invading en masse and leveling the city but fluoride, best projected in a paste-like substance for maximum monster repelling is the only weakness the Cavity Creeps have. It’s still going to be goofy until you can refine the idea, but it can be refined. The question is how can you ad dra…sorry, add drama to this story? Considering what the CW did to Archie Andrews and friends I believe anything is possible. Look what The Mighty Ducks (the cartoon, not the movie) did with hockey.
But that’s looking solely at this specific scenario. Pull back a bit and maybe Crest could sponsor an adventure and you just see people brushing with Crest. It could still be a story about monsters attacking a floating city that they need to smash the wall for. It doesn’t necessarily have to resemble teeth, or maybe just enough to get the analogy. Extend it past 30 seconds and you can get into the adventures of the Crest Team and have the Creeps do something more exciting that jumping on the wall and taking pickaxes to it every week. You know, one week one guy sneaks in and tries to set off a bomb, and one of the team has to disarm it because he or she is tied to it or one of the kids can’t make anyone believe there’s a bomb so they have to do something themselves. Maybe Cresty (yes, they named the dog Cresty) is the only one not hit by a sleeping gas and has to save the day Rin Tin Tin style? You know somebody is going to tune in just as the bomb reaches 10 seconds and the dog is surrounded by Cavity Creeps.
That Time Sugar Bear Became MCU Hulk
Let’s ignore the fact that the cereal-stealing shark needs a submarine or that the boxes should be all soggy by the time this ad ends, or that “Super Bear” is naked despite still having his shirt in the first commercial in this series. (The lettering changed from “Sugar Bear” to “Super Bear”. Cartoon anthro animals seldom wear pants you know.) It’s kid logic and that’s why I love kid logic. With the popularity of superhero shows, some of which are sometimes allowed to actually have superheroes, making a superhero adventure in you short could draw somebody in. So create a superhero show that’s done serial style (no pun intended) where you have to come back next week to see what happens next. Or just a crime drama with the action of 24 but not so much the “real time” thing. Make it a serious action show instead of a goofy tale of a cereal mascot who can become He-Man (or in some later stories it somehow did for him what spinach did for Popeye, but I think he’s actually ripping off the Cheerios Kid) you have a hero who has to deal with more serous bad guys. Not too serious or you lose the fun of a superhero adventure, but it doesn’t have to be goofy of comedic.
In other words, your hero isn’t powered by the product being sold but you could have a story where a rival wants to destroy the factory that makes the product or corner the market and the hero has to stop them from ruining the company sponsoring the story. You don’t want this in a main story but in a short, multi-part recurring adventure? You could. For example:
The Sectaurs serial
Action boy toy commercials used to feature a scripted “battle” with kids using the toys. Now they seem to be just showing off the features and not giving a story for the kids to continue while setting up the world. One of my favorites was a Ram Man commercial for Masters Of The Universe that showed dad playing with his sons. But this set of ads was something different. For the Sectaurs toyline a multi-episode serialized storyline was created that slowly showed off every character, beast, and the one playset the toyline had to offer, all in an exciting (for a kid in the 80s; I doubt most of you cares if Dargon is about to be decapitated or not) adventure that continues every week. Like Lost but with a better ending. I think. I haven’t been able to find the full series of Sectaurs serialized ads but considering from what I hear about Lost I wrote better endings in middle school study hall I’m willing to take the bet.
But how would you do this for adults when you’re trying to push…I don’t know, a line of cars? Come on, guys, you’ve seen product placement in movies where the car gets to show off how cool it is, from Michael Bay to Vin Diesel. You take a story that couldn’t make full series and cut it up into one adventure that happens every week during…I don’t know, does Fox still force Seth McFarlane to make American Dad?…that now gives people a reason to tune in even if they dust shelves or something waiting for the next chapter. Now Fox tries to get you interested in a show you previously ignored (note I said “tries”…it is American Dad) because you don’t know which commercial break has the next chapter. Or even sprinkle the story through the whole line-up and hope people stay around all night to catch the next chapter. lasting the full ad break instead of 30 seconds. Put the product placement in, maybe work with the advertisers to release the full version with separate ads on YouTube or make money on the home video and digital download, and you have something unique.
Of course this could just have been a huge excuse to act like Dinosaur Dracula and post a bunch of old action cartoon style commercials for your amusement, but you don’t believe that, right? The Sectaurs ad was live-action with the toys. So you know I’m totally legit and spitballing ideas to do with fiction what Fox is planning to do with uplifting stories. Yep, totally my reason for doing this. Otherwise I’d show you that ad when Cap’N Crunch had a giant robot to beat alien milk monsters who wanted to make the world soggy.
Okay, I suck at lying but I still think I had some good ideas here.