Adapting to DVRing: Narrative Franchises and Advertising
Rochelle Rodrigo / Mesa Community College
Setting: Super Bowl Sunday
Since this year’s Super Bowl was in my home state, Arizona, I refused to leave the house. My partner, however, was not going to be denied the pleasure of watching the game. Because we now tend to DVR (digital video record) almost all TV that we watch, it was a rare thing that we were actually watching the game as it was broadcast. Like at most Super Bowl parties, some people watched the game (my partner) and others watched the commercials. I only looked up from my laptop if I heard something interesting during the commercials.
I am a science fiction fan, and personally I was more interested in what was happening on the new television show Terminator: The Sarah Conner Chronicles than who was playing in the Super Bowl. I was happily surprised that I had the opportunity to get my Terminator fix during the Super Bowl intros where one of the unskinned Terminator androids battles the NFL FoxBot, a robot mascot adobpted by Fox to promote their NFL programming. Early during the football season I had commented on how I didn’t like the “toyness” of the NFL FoxBot, which so clearly resonated with the aesthetics of the Transformers robots from the summer before. I was so excited when the terminator android threw the NFL FoxBot around the screen that I cheered!
Setting: Some weeknight at the end of February 2008
My partner and I finally got around to watching the DVRed two-hour television kick-off of a new Knight Rider series. Since I was actually taking a break and not working on the laptop at the same time, I controlled the remote during our viewing session. My partner started getting extremely agitated after the second time I stopped fast forwarding mid-commercial sequence in order to rewind and play one of the Ford commercials “starring” Justin Bruening and the Ford mustang who were both playing their characters from the movie’s narrative.
Specific narratives branching out into a variety of modalities is nothing new; in fact, they do it in a number of ways.1 In the 1980s, George Lucas demonstrated the profitability of “continuing” the story across different media (films, books, action figures, video games, …); you see the Star Wars franchise everywhere now. For example, get in on the action in the Star Wars universe–to Las Vegas and play a slot machine.
Industries using narrative franchises to help advertise products is not new either. Product placement is big business in itself. Let’s admit it, McDonald’s’ marketing ploys aimed at small children are based on a child’s desire to continue a specific narrative’s storyline after eating his or her happy meal.
Narrative franchises merging together in no longer new either. When you are talking the third, fifth, eighth, and eleventh numbered film in a series, you’re talking guaranteed audience attendance!
All three of these methods of narrative franchise sprawl have a common goal: to help advertise the consumption of the narrative, some other product, or both. I think, however, with the Terminator vs. FoxBot and Night Rider Mustang spots we are seeing something a little different. Obviously in both cases the commercial spots attempt to promote either one or both products; however, these commercials spots also try to keep viewers from fast-forwarding through their DVRed material. These commercials do not have the “trapped” audiences of pre-DVR broadcast television or online streaming re-cast “television.” Instead, these commercial spots have to persuade the viewer that if you don’t watch the commercial, you might miss something.
The Super Bowl spots with the Terminator and the FoxBot are a simplistic form of this type of advertising. Beyond seeing which android will win, there is no narrative motivation to continue watching the spot. In other words, if I never saw those commercials, I would not miss anything from the larger narrative of the actual television series. On the other hand, the Mike and KITT Ford commercials do include material that is critical to the larger Night Rider narrative. In the commercial series we quickly find out that Mike will not be able to have a love life with anyone who does not know about, and tolerate, KITT. This is critical to the larger narrative since throughout the movie, there is tension between Mike and Sarah (Deanna Russo), his childhood friend and former girlfriend, who just happens to be the only person at the end of the film who can work on KITT’s artificial intelligence system. Sarah is a woman that Mike might be able to date because she does know KITT.
With an already well-developed industry for placing products into media narratives, will we now see an emergence of broadcast commercials that expand narrative franchises within the advertisement’s storyline? Will we see a growing number of ads that contain knowledge critical to understanding key components of the narrative franchise’s overall plot? Will we see more technological advancements that allow us to continue editing out non-narrative-dependent materials? Or, will it become all narrative, all the time?
1. The Terminator robot gears up to battle the FoxBot.
2. That’s 4 Alien movies, 2 Predator movies, and 2 Alien vs. Predator movies for a grand total of 8 films in this merged series.
Please feel free to comment.
- Lauer, Jean Anne, and Shelley Rodrigo. “Resident Franchise: Theorizing the SF Genre, Conglomerations, and the Future of Synergy.” Playing the Universe: Games and Gaming in Science Fiction. Lublin: Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Marii Curie-Sklodowskeij, 2007. [↩]
I think you bring up an interesting question about the relationship between advertising and evolving media technology.
I certainly think that newer types of advertising developed for online streaming television or designed to combat DVRing provide fertile ground for further research and theorization.
Thanks for opening up the discussion!
My only question is, after awhile, people will start to get bored of the excessive narrative and continue to just dvr through them, i would argue that perhaps we will see more commercials that are mean’t to be sped through, i just noticed the other day that when i am scanning through the commercials my eyes are expertly tuned to find the show but in doing so am absorbing near subliminal information
Yes, I agree that I think the “simplicity” of some commercials is because it is then easier to see them while fast forwarding through.
As to the idea of “too much narrative,” I don’t know if I agree with it. Couldn’t we argue that part of the reason of the expansion of so many cable network channels if not for people wanting to continue with the specific narratives (generally a genre of narratives) all the time?
I’m also wondering if by spreading the narrative over different modalities it is constructing a type of narrative challenge. Can we consider it a challenge to track all of the narrative over different modalities, kind of like putting together a puzzle?