Friday, April 25, 2008

Does ABC stand for Advertising Bogus Claim?

Back in 1997, though the Internet was only just beginning to take off as a cultural force, broadcast television was already seeing its audience erode, as viewers turned to cable channels, video cassettes and video games.  

ABC responded by commissioning an image campaign that was a far cry from the typical song-and-dance productions featuring the network's coterie of stars and starlets.  This time, the network would create a brand that was more than just the sum of its shows, a brand that defined the network's appeal and set it apart from all other viewing options.  All well and good -- in theory.  In practice, however, we got messages like this:


Yes, ABC's campaign -- which championed not the network as much as the very idea of TV -- was irreverant, satirical and quite contemporary in its humor.

And very, very misguided.  

If the campaign were for Comedy Central, okay. Or for NBC (which at least still had "Friends" and "Seinfeld" then), maybe. But ABC?  You'd be hard-pressed to find an ad campaign in recent memory that was so out of sync with its product. Yes, it had those attention-getting graphics in its favor, but even if those messages did persuade the target audience of 18- to 24-year-olds to give ABC another look, what shows were awaiting them?

Take a quick look at the ABC fall schedule of 1997.  You'll find such hip, edgy fare as "Home Improvement," "Dharma & Greg," and "Spin City."  Okay, sure, "NYPD Blue" was still on, but by 1997 it wasn't pushing the envelope so much as pushing middle-age.  

In all, the campaign comes off as a bunch of ads created by a people who've never so much as picked up a TV Guide and read an ABC listing.  I'm sure its no coincidence that -- despite its splashy introduction and the media attention it garnered -- the campaign lasted only marginally longer than most of the shows ABC premiered that year.  (Ouch!  Now that's a cheap shot!)

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