Friday, 10 June 2011

Masterchef the Masterful Advertiser

A television show all about consumption, Masterchef is a marketer’s wet dream. Profit from ads, magazines, and product placements have turned the brand into a $100 million dollar industry. However, I have found myself getting my “food porn’ fix elsewhere as I cannot shake the feeling that I am watching one big commercial. With over 70 sponsors and suppliers parading their products across the screen, the boundaries between advertisement and entertainment are becoming increasingly blurred. As the way media is produced, distributed and consumed changes, so must the way advertisers reach their target market in order to remain effective. British broadcasting authority Ofcom have proposed regulations that would require TV stations to broadcast an audio signal and an on-screen watermark each time a commercially placed product was screened, but in a show built on product placement this could cause more of a distraction than the advertisements themselves. With an audience of 2 million viewers per night this trend is clearly not yet bothering everyone, so how do we measure how much of the show’s integrity is for sale?

Media plays a primary role in regulating and influencing the meanings, values, and tastes that set the norms and conventions in society (Proffitt, 2007). This is evident in the effect that Masterchef has on sales of groceries for their biggest sponsor Coles. After the recipes featured on the show, sales of beef stroganoff cuts went up 30 per cent, diced pork soared 480 per cent, rib roasts doubled and salmon fillets rose 24 per cent, according to Robert Hadler, general manager of corporate affairs for Coles. In an era of audience fragmentation, a cooking program that reaches ten per cent of Australians every night is so powerful it is having a hegemonic effect on grocery sales across the country. As cooking is the central theme of the show, it is understandable to see a rise in sales of food products used to make the dishes. It is when you find yourself reaching for certain brands that alarm bells should start going off.

Last season showed an incident where one contestant spilt salmon roe in front of the judges. Matt Preston, the face of Handee Ultra paper towels was quick to whip out the roll of paper towels just off camera and help out. A scene that has no relevance to the episodes’ outcome takes up one minute of programming time and is cleverly followed by an ad break with Handee Ultra being the first ad shown. This capitalistic approach to the shows’ production undermines the program’s ability to be seen as a real cultural resource. By taking advantage of viewers and advertising to them in the program the show’s integrity is therefore questioned, making the viewer feel betrayed, and less likely to keep watching.
As commercial forces take hold of the selection, composition, and presentation of media it is important to understand the way in which this affects our decision-making behaviour in relation to reality. In absence of personal experience, we become highly dependant on representation to form our sense of meaning, understanding, and opinion of what is being presented to us (Bowles, 2009). In the realm of Masterchef, product placements are conditioning viewers to rely on these representations in order to sell their brands, to great effect. People are more likely to trust recommendations from other people rather than traditional brand advertising. This is one of the reasons why product placements work so well in convincing consumers, as they believe they are making a more personal decision. This is evident in Coles’ slogan of ‘Shop where a Masterchef shops’, the use of Matt Preston as the face of Handee Ultra, and the overall format of Masterchef, littered with products being used by easily relatable everyday Aussies. Because viewers process ads differently within a program to those in the ad break, the cynicism afforded to commercials when viewers are aware they are being advertised to is not applied as readily to product placements. With this in mind, the exploitation of programs by advertisers as they adapt to a changing market won’t be slowing down. Finding a balance between advertising and entertainment is central to successful programming. As a media literate it is important to greet all media with a disposition towards what the ulterior motive behind the media you consume actually is.  

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