Posted by Abe Sauer on November 23, 2010 01:00 PM
Web based television series have been hit and miss. This might be because such shows simply tried moving conventional TV to an online environment. A new Current TV web series called Bar Karma is trying a whole new approach, where everything in the show is "community developed." Yes, everything, from plot to product placement.
For example, currently the "Marketing Department" section of Bar Karma's Creation Studios is challenging fans to "put the all-new 2011 Mazda2 into the story. Zoom! Zoom!" But don't zoom too fast, kids — there are guidelines.
Current TV, despite its financial woes, has been a leader at involving its viewers in its programming, and even making ads (which it calls VCAMs, for viewer created ad messages). Bar Karma, the series featuring the Mazda2, is a novel twist on branded entertainment, and the brainchild of celebrated video game designer Will Wright.
The plot loosely revolves around a mysterious intergalactic bar of some sort, where things are not always what they seem:
Online fans drive the shows by pitching plots, voting on direction and shaping the design and even brand cameos. Also, yes, the community pitches the product placement.
Yet, when it comes to the Bar Karma product placement, participants are given some parameters for integration. In fact, they're given a lot of them. The "rules" offer some insight into some of the scenarios in which brands don't like to see their products. The Mazda2 rules include:
- This car is not interested in partying. No drugs or alcohol, please.
- The car will not be used for or engaged in any acts of violence. That includes collisions, explosions, using the car as a weapon, and not wearing your safety belt
- No high speed peel outs, burning rubber, or sexual innuendo.
- Let's stay away from competitor references.
- Finally, Mazda reserves the right to add or delete any of the above listed standards
So, basically, just make it a really positive depiction of the Mazda2 doing fairly uncreative car things. What wants to be an unrestricted experiment in Internet television remains (in some ways at least) tethered to the old conventions.
Criticism lodged, this approach to product placement is certainly fresh. Obviously, these placements are expected to be win-win. Hardcore devotees of the show are exposed to the Mazda2 while thinking up scenes in which to incorporate the Mazda2.
Meanwhile, those who just watch the show are exposed to a Mazda2 product placement. Should Bar Karma experience some runaway success with this approach, expect to see development of other manner of dynamic audience-advertiser participation beyond this Current/Mazda experiment.