The Future of Television Advertising Is ‘The Gift of Revenge’


Remember commercials? Those were those little 30-second movies you used to watch during your favorite TV shows. You know, the ones you see ever year during the Super Bowl. Yeah, those! Most people don’t remember. These days most people only see commercials as sped-up jumbles as you fast forward your DVR, or as the things you put on mute that play every few minutes while you check your Gmail when watching a show on the Internet. The problem is commercials are still what pays for all those shows that you devote so much time tweeting, Facebooking, and iChatting about.

So, if everyone is ignoring the commercials but they’re still funding the creative products we’re all interested in, then how is TV going to make money and how are advertisers going to make ads that we finally pay attention to? It’s probably going to look exactly like The Gift of Revenge. For those who watched last night’s episode of ABC’s hit “down with the 1%” melodrama Revenge know exactly what I’m talking about. There was a series of ads featuring the secondary characters of the show (apparently Madeleine Stowe was not interested) getting gifts from a mysterious person and being told to go to an address at midnight. After each commercial there was a “To be continued…” and the story picked up again at the next commercial break.

At the end we find out that Jack, Declan, Charlotte, and Fake Amanda are all invited to a big party held by Nolan where a band plays and they all party. Yeah, it was kind of silly and cheesy, as all commercials tend to be, but I also watched every one. Those are the first commercials I’ve seen since the second Bush administration. Damn you Target and Neiman Marcus! Yes, the commercials were for a collaboration between the two stores, in which they’re selling Christmas gifts by a host of different fashion designers. It’s the names you see at Neiman Marcus with the price tags you see at Target. Most of that I learned from their website. From the commercials I just sort of gleaned that they have a lot of good stuff and, apparently, Neiman Marcus and Target are now masquerading as each other like real Amanda Clark and fake Emily Thorne.

But I got that far, which is much more than I can say for most commercials. This is a trend that we’ve been seeing more and more on television lately. There were the Ford music videos by the Glee cast and Real Housewives stars on Bravo shilling for a bunch of different products, including Secret deodorant. What is appealing for advertisers is that these commercials are DVR proof. As you’re zipping past everyone else’s spots, you stop on these commercials because you see your favorite characters and think the show is back. Yes, it gets you to watch. But sometimes the disappointment of being duped is enough to offset any gain.

Last night’s episode of Revenge didn’t stop with the commercials though. The “Gift of Revenge” concept was also quietly integrated into the episode. Amanda (the real Amanda) was wearing the same shoes in the episode as the woman handing out the gifts in the commercial, one of which you can watch below but I don’t get paid by Target or Neiman’s so you can find the rest on your own. We also saw Amanda giving Victoria a literal gift, a better-late-than-never token for her wedding. Since we never see her opening, it’s the giving that seems more important than what’s in the box. Also, the screen featured a #GiftOfRevenge hashtag emblazoned in the lower left corner for most of the episode, replacing the usual discreet #Revenge.

Yes, people, this is the future of advertising. Since we all decided that we would do just about anything in our power to skip the commercials (I know you pause your favorite drama for 15 minutes so that you can then fly through the sponsored parts), the commercials are getting more and more up in our faces. This isn’t the product placement we’re used to. It’s more aggressive. It’s turning the show into a way to sell products and using the people in the show as shills. Pretty soon, it’s all just going to be one gobbledy-gook of people who both entertain us and make sure that we’re following all their lifestyle decisions and buying the same junk as they are. You’ll be able to hold your iPhone up in front of the TV and point it at an outfit and have it arrive at your door in 4-6 business days with free shipping.

OK, that future is about as distant as the hovering skateboard from Back to the Future II (sorry, already having the technology to make that happen is an urban legend), but I have to commend the Gift of Revenge. The spots were interesting, looked incredibly expensive, and did their job – which was to get me to watch. Am I going to go to Target and buy any of those things? Probably not. But if anyone wants to get me Declan’s Thom Browne blazer, it would certainly make my Christmas. And if this is what the future looks like, it’s not going to be the worst place to live.

Follow Brian Moylan on Twitter @BrianJMoylan

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