Which, depending on how deferential you wish to be to the pioneers, is just a heroic way of saying:
Lost in the woods.
Sure, in the last five years we've seen many ingenious and inspiring explorations into new media-chief among them, perhaps, Fallon's BMW Films, which (for all its targeting deficiencies) demonstrated that, at nominal cost, you can tempt the consumer to find his way to you. But not every innovation is BMW Films.
The Brawny Academy, for instance.
Another experiment from Fallon, Minneapolis -- this time for Georgia-Pacific's paper-towel brand -- brawnyacademy.com is the convergence of reality TV, branded entertainment and online marketing. In other words, cutting-edge and forward-thinking and ultra-pioneery. The problem is, it's idiotic.
We're not talking about the content, which is typical reality-TV fare: eight lunkheads banished to the North Woods by their desperate housewives to cultivate some spousal empathy, tutored by the preternaturally cool and rugged Brawny Man. It's the sort of "Real World" meets "Survivor" premise that litters the prime-time landscape. A couple of the characters -- notably a funny little slob named Alfonzo -- are likeable and fun. But, ladies and gentlemen, not nearly fun enough.
Adventures of eight dopes
What? We're supposed to go online once a week to see an online paper-towel commercial? We're supposed to lean forward on our desktops to follow the adventures of eight dopes who we probably wouldn't even exchange pleasantries with at the bus stop? We're supposed to be glued to our seats viewing contrived, paper-towel-intensive competitions?
And when we say "we," we mean "she."
The target here is women -- women so disgusted with their good-for-nothing mates that they take vicarious satisfaction watching other women's good-for-nothing mates humiliated by housework. In the second episode, for instance, one of the competitions is called "Walk a Mile in Her Shoes."
It's an obstacle course, in which the guys must carry groceries while pushing a baby carriage through the woods, put the groceries away in a dummy kitchen, strap the baby in a sling, clean up the muddy kitchen floor, race through laundry baskets and under ironing boards without spilling a cup of milk, fill a baby bottle, vacuum in high heels, fill a toy box and so on.
Ha ha. Cute comeuppance. Except who has time to watch this, when in real life you're pushing strollers and vacuuming and filling toy boxes and unloading groceries?
We have serious doubts whether anybody would watch such a thing on television; it's too obnoxiously Brawny-branded, far beyond the most clunky "The Apprentice" or "Queer Eye" product placement. But the idea of investing computer time is even more ludicrous. Any woman with an hour to kill for online fantasy ain't gonna squander it at Camp Absorbency.
That's the problem with cutting through the forest. It's easy to get disoriented. Next thing, you're just walking in circles. Next thing, you're dead.
The question is, what are we to say to Georgia-Pacific and Fallon? "Shame on you for so succumbing to the romance and glory of pioneering that you yourselves harbor silly fantasies about consumer behavior?" Or, "Good for you for displaying the courage to blaze new paths?"
Probably the answer is both. But if there's any lesson to this exercise, it's that the New Media World is a lot like the old one. If you put the "creativity" ahead of the consumer, you are lost.
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