Jewish World Review April 9, 2003 / 7 Nisan, 5763

Abe Novick

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Consumer Reports

American media becoming embedded with the enemy? | The war has seeped into every crevice of our being. It cannot not be found. Whether in sight or sound, it has invaded our airspace. Like a highly rated reality TV show or some hot new cyber-commando game, it's hard to turn it off.

Even though it's being fought on the other side of the world, through the technique of embedding reporters with high-tech cameras and transmission devices, we are right alongside the soldiers and can witness the images of shock and awe, 24/7.

But what if those morsels of info and images from afar were laced with a secret coded message? Like some modern day Rip Van Winkle, who woke up after being subliminally seduced in the '70s, he's now embedded in a new world order.

Already, embedded within the content of movies, books and TV shows, entertainment has taken a page right out of the hottest trend to sweep the world of advertising.

More and more, the difference between editorial (content) and advertising (sales) is becoming less and less. Advertisers, like the reporters covering the news are embedding their brand's message within the content of the show.

We all know, the Coke Simon Cowell drinks on American Idol is an embedded brand within the show. Revlon created a Revlon-olution, when it paid to have a story line revolve around its brand on a soap opera. And there's no need to guess which brand paid a jewel of a price to be featured in a book called The Bulgari Connection?

So, how long until a reporter embedded in the front lines will say, "Dan, standing here in my Nikes, jotting down the notes of my interview with Saddam with my Cross Pen, it occurred to me I better call you on my Verizon Wireless and do a little fact checking."

If the idea strikes you as nonsense, consider this. It's already being doneæ to an extent. Take the world of sports news and broadcasting? The Virginia Slims Tennis Tournament? The Reebok half-time Report?

Closer to the frontlines, it was discovered that the 101st Airborne Division named two Iraq outposts after oil companiesæForward Operating Base Shell and Forward Operating Base Exxon. According to one energy expert the subtle choice of slapping brand names onto Pentagon real estate was "mind-boggling" in its degree of insensitivity.

But naming has become one of the primary methodologies of associating a brand with a team and, in this case, I suppose we're talking team USA.

Look, every stadium across the country is either 3Com stadium or FleetCenter or First Union Center. It's a clever way of getting brand recognition without seeming to be advertising. Even though it costs big bucks and companies pay a high price for naming rights to get their brand out there, it still can be less than traditional means. And in an age when overt advertising ploys, expensive media buys and typical thirty-second television commercials are avoided like a hungry used-car salesmen, an embedded message flies in stealth-like, under the radar.

Furthermore because many advertisers are reluctant to share space (as ads) during war coverage, they've opted out of marketing their wares and instead are taking a wait-and-see, reconnaissance approach. They don't want their frivolous sales pitches to overtly interrupt as advertisements in the wake of some awful imagery.

But what happens when the sales pitch invades the news under the radar screenæsome morphed version of journa-info-adver-tainment? A sandstorm further clouds an already blurry line.

And if that happens, the integrity of both entities could be caught in the crossfire and irreparably harmed.

I have no problem with brands finding their way into fictitious settings. But the more news tries to become pop, the closer it comes to slipping into quicksand.

As technology brings the tools of editorial and advertising closer, one segment of the media must remain pure. It may be tempting to get into bed with embedded messages. But for news and advertising to go there, would be to get embedded with the enemy.

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JWR contributor Abe Novick is senior vice president of Eisner Communications in Baltimore. Comment by clicking here.

© 2003, Abe Novick