Behavior Placements: Brought to You by the Letters N, B, and C

I often find myself complaining about product placement on television—it’s an incredibly powerful tool for manipulating our realities and stimulating desire for the newest consumer good. And, of course, it’s fueled by $3.5 billion a year—and that’s just in the U.S.—so how can an individual resist that amount of consumer propaganda?

But every dark cloud has a silver lining, it seems. I just read in the Wall Street Journal about “behavior placement” taking place on the U.S. television network NBC. In short, NBC Universal has been encouraging show producers to incorporate green themes into their programs. So, a nurse on “Mercy” organizing a bike group, Al Gore showing up on “30 Rock,” and the conversion of Dwight into the superhero, Recyclops, on “The Office” weren’t just coincidence, but part of a coordinated network effort. Sure, NBC’s motivation is primarily to create a competitive advantage to attract advertisers, but the positive side effect is that sustainable behaviors are being subtly reinforced, just as consumer behaviors typically are with product placements.

The WSJ article also mentions the role that NBC Universal Women & Lifestyle Entertainment Networks has played in lobbying show producers for the incorporation of these green behaviors. That’s what it takes: advocates pushing for these inclusions. And the more individuals, consultancies, or organizations doing this type of lobbying, the better. They’ll play a key part in retooling the advertising market away from selling stuff to selling sustainability, as Jonah Sachs and Susan Finkelpearl discuss in their State of the World 2010 article on social marketing.

Moreover, the existence of these advocates may even provide a new set of allies to help push for better regulation of the marketing industry. They can help encourage more government-funded social marketing to replace the revenue that advertising generates—perhaps even funded by a <<gasp>> tax on advertising. Imagine what the world would look like if much of the $643 billion of advertising went to normalizing sustainable lifestyles. It’s almost hard to imagine—but perhaps a few visions of these positive futures could be embedded in some of NBC’s shows next season.

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