Cadillac and Time Warner have just started a new program called “Business Unusual. Daring stories from the road to success.” Comedian Chris Hardwick is the host and the basic concept is that he will interview entrepreneurs who have defied the odds by taking a risk and turning it into a successful business. The outputs are videos featuring Hardwick and the entrepreneur(s) discussing their venture, what worked, what didn’t. The objective is to draw parallels between what these entrepreneurs have done/do and Cadillac.
Fair enough, but let’s face it, the promise to the consumer is an interesting story about an entrepreneur and secondarily a bit of information about Cadillac.
The two available videos (at cnnmoney.com) illustrate the difficulty of finding the balance between providing the content that the consumer is promised versus the commercial message.
The first video is about a company called Wagic and I think does a pretty good job. The entrepreneurs, their business and products are interesting. I felt as if I actually learned something about their business idea and how they succeeded. There is only one moment where I felt the commercial interests intrude. Toward the end, Hardwick asks shamelessly “how do you go from something like this (pointing to a Kiddalac riding toy) to something like this (pointing to a Cadillac CTS).” That then leads one of the entrepreneurs to say, “they (Cadillac) started from scratch, that’s what we would do if we were going to make a revolutionary car.” I don’t mind the opening and closing visuals of the car that Hardwick is driving, but forcing the brand strategy into the conversation was a bit over the top and left me a little frustrated.
Unfortunately, the commercial nature is even more overt in the second episode… which is about a company called Crushpad. Again an interesting company and business model that I enjoyed learning about. The entrepreneur was not as comfortable on camera as the fellows from Wagic, but that’s OK. Where things got bad was when they got in the Cadillac to ostensibly go on a tour of the Napa Valley. First we have to shamelessly consult the navigation system (so the viewer can see it) and then while driving Hardwick says, even more shamelessly, “because I don’t live in Napa, could I start a vineyard in this car?” to which our entrepreneur replies “it’s big enough, big sunroof as well.”
At that point I felt violated. It wasn’t clever or funny. It was the product’s strategy showing in a place that I had been led to believe would be about “Daring stories from the road to success.” Oh I get it, nudge, nudge, the road to success.
It demonstrates what a fine line it is between providing content that’s interesting and shameless efforts to insert the brand’s commercial message. I certainly don’t mind Hardwick driving a Cadillac or using the technology available in it, if it makes sense. I wouldn’t even mind the video bookended by commercial messages. But to thrust stupid dialogue in the middle of the video to make a product point, i.e.: ”could I start a vineyard in this car?…it’s big enough, big sunroof as well” destroys the integrity of video from a consumer’s point of view.
This is not a new issue, for years magazine publishers have talked about the importance of “church and state.” What they mean is that the commercial interests of the magazine are separate from the editorial, otherwise there is the possibility that advertisers might influence the editorial content, compromise the integrity of the edit staff and the relationship with their readers who are ostensibly looking for objective reporting. Even when special advertiser supported sections that look like edit are included in a magazine they are identified as “Advertising Supplements” to make sure readers are not confused and the implicit “promise” of objective edit is not broken.
I recognize that there are all sorts of grey areas in this discussion and that serving the commercial interests of an enterprise while not breaking the trust of the consumer is particularly hard as marketers are increasingly content providers. As if that’s not difficult enough, social media is blurring the distinctions even further.
I think a good rule of thumb is to err on the side of separating the commercial message from the content. If you are concerned that a piece of content is becoming too commercial, then it probably is, and you should back off.
Consumers understand that marketers need to sell products and accept it, but if you are a content provider “poseur” then you are implicitly breaking a promise to your audience and that’s the kiss of death.