In the first half of the Packers game against the Cowboys[i] on November 15th, FOX came back from a commercial and aired this:
You’ll notice two pale-faced, un-eyebrowed men in the middle of the frame. Announcers Joe Buck and Troy Aikman, notably, do not refer to these curiously-dressed stoic men, who sit in stark contrast to the green and yellow flow of color around them.
These men are “the observers”—characters on FOX’s show “Fringe.” Their whole deal is that they show up at important historical events—a game between two average teams in the middle of the year being one apparently.
But FOX has been sending out one or both of these men to “historical events” like the 2009 MLB All-Star game (as seen on FOX), NASCAR races (FOX), American Idol (FOX), last year’s NFL playoff game between the Giants and Eagles (FOX), and you get the point. It’s been going on for a year.
Search “the observers fringe” on YouTube and you’ll see the videos for these appearances. Notice the information about who posted each video. You’ll see that the poster only posted that video or other videos regarding “the observers,” but their screen names have nothing to do with FOX or Fringe.
After their appearance at the Packers game, a local FOX affiliate ran this “news story”:
It’s a clever campaign. The announcers don’t recognize the creepy men in the center of the frame, but the audience does. The viewer is supposed to say, “What the hell was that?” and make jokes with their buddies, thinking that FOX screwed up and put some dapperly dressed, hairless man on camera. Then a Fringe commercial comes on a few breaks later, and the viewer has already established a relationship with that character. Furthermore, if a viewer’s interest is piqued enough, he or she will search YouTube for the clip and find the FOX-supplied videos mentioned before.
This kind of cross-media advertising is a bit indecent. Not necessarily new, but not decent either. FOX is trying to using their most viewed forums (sports and American Idol) to promote a show (Fringe) that really has no relevance. Regardless of the show’s merit[ii], viewers are subjected to a subliminal message prompting them to figure out where these guys come from, instead of enjoying the program they turned on.
The content is being disrupted. And worse, with the announcers told not to mention the appearance of these “observers,” FOX assumes the viewer is too ignorant to figure out the blatant advertising. FOX is employing a new kind of subliminal advertising—one where the viewer either recognizes the ad campaign or does not recognize it and are then curious to figure out the identity of these “observers.” With either outcome though, Fringe gains attention.
It’s certainly not new to see advertising for one show in another—that happens constantly. But this is insulting to the consumer. And it’s effective.
[i] 17-7 Pack. Eat it, Dallas.
[ii] For the record, I think this show sucks.