Saturday, February 6, 2010

The Politics Of Ketchup

It was appalling (but hardly surprising) that Brian Williams devoted 25 seconds of Thursday's Nightly News (and his Thursday blog) to Heinz's new ketchup package. Brian called Heinz's new packages "The biggest development in the fast-food business in generations". Really? So this is more important than the introduction of salads, the changeover to zero-trans-fat french fry oil or the posting of calorie counts in fast-food restaurants? That seems dubious. Furthermore, it's obvious that Brian's rave was meant to offer some free publicity to a regular advertiser. In addition to their ketchup and baked beans, Heinz markets a large array of food brands including Lea & Perrins, Classico, Smart Ones, Ore-Ida frozen potatoes and Weight Watchers frozen foods. It's safe to say that Heinz spends a significant amount of ad dollars with NBC Universal and Brian was rewarding a long-time sponsor with some lucrative free ad time. But wait--it gets better. Brian also managed to work in a gratuitous plug for McDonald's: "The days of squeezing out the contents of 29 separate ketchup packs on your McDonald's wrapper will soon come to an end." Obviously, Brian could have used the phrase "hamburger wrapper" but he chose to specifically mention McDonald's. If anyone thinks this was coincidental or unintentional, they should recall the 5/5/09 Nightly News broadcast. That night, viewers were treated to a 2:15 "news story" all about the launch of McDonald's new gourmet coffees. It is the policy of NBC to use news stories to profile products as a way of thanking regular sponsors. After all, product placement isn't just for entertainment shows anymore.

Also on Thursday's broadcast, Brian said that the earthquake in Haiti took place "three weeks and one day ago". In fact, the earthquake had occurred three weeks and two days earlier.

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