NBC Executives Don't Understand Mind Control

NBC Executives Don't Understand Mind Control

"I'm going to buy some eco-friendly clothing like that jerk on Millionaire Matchmaker!"

Obviously, the first rule of mind control is don't talk about mind control—especially with the human shells that house the minds you're attempting to control. The second rule of mind control is don't brag to news outlets about how great you are at mind control. No one told NBC about these rules, though, which is why they boasted to the Wall St. Journal about their hilarious "behavior placement" scheme:

The tactic—General Electric Co.'s NBC Universal calls it "behavior placement"—is designed to sway viewers to adopt actions they see modeled in their favorite shows. And it helps sell ads to marketers who want to associate their brands with a feel-good, socially aware show.

Unlike with product placement, which can seem jarring to savvy viewers, the goal is that viewers won't really notice that Tina Fey is tossing a plastic bottle into the recycle bin, or that a minor character on "Law and Order: SVU" has switched to energy-saving light bulbs. "People don't want to be hit over the head with it," says NBC Universal Chief Executive Jeff Zucker. "Putting it in programing is what makes it resonate with viewers."

While I applaud the idea that NBC wants their mind control, excuse me, behavior placement to be subtle, I think they could make it even more subtle. Like, invisible-subtle. Because the behavior placement described in this article is, at best, pointless. I'm sure the fact that the dead rape victim in Law & Order: SVU happened to have energy efficient lightbulbs in the lighting fixture positioned directly above her bloody, battered corpse is what resonated with viewers from that episode.  "Hmm. Even that viciously beaten corpse on SVU uses energy-saving lightbulbs. Maybe I should get some," isn't a thought that has ever occurred.

Still, TV teach me? Without Snuffleupagus? Do tell.

Since fall 2007, network executives have been asking producers of almost every prime-time and daytime show to incorporate a green storyline at least once a year. The effort now takes place for a week in April and November. Starting April 19 this year, 40 NBC Universal outlets will feature some 100 hours of green-themed programming, including an episode of the Bravo reality series "Millionaire Matchmaker" in which a 39-year-old tycoon with an eco-friendly clothing line goes into a rage after his blind date orders red meat. 

I saw this episode of Millionaire Matchmaker, and the particular behavior "placed" in it was not "buy eco-friendly clothing" or even "think about eco-friendly clothing." Instead it was "Stay far, far away from people who make eco-friendly clothing because they are shrill, egotistical assholes."

But what good is behavior placement without some fun marketing sub-categories?

To court advertisers targeting specific demographics, NBC researchers conduct regular focus groups. Viewers are broken into categories based on their favorite shows and their level of concern about the environment. "Alpha ecos" are mostly women who drive hybrids, eat organic and watch the Bravo channel. "Eco-logicals" are older viewers who have "traditional Midwestern values," drink Diet Coke, drive domestic cars and love basic-cable channel USA.

Only two demos, NBC execs? What about the Beta Granolas—men 30-40 who eat Kashi, shop at Whole Foods, and can only fall asleep watching MSNBC? Or the Eco-go-gos—Latina women under 24 who carpool, use non-aerosol dry shampoo, and love Telemundo? 

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