Just put on a good show

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Word that McCann-Erickson Worldwide is launching a unit to develop sponsor-friendly programming for TV and video markets is not, strictly speaking, new news. But if advertisers get it right, it is welcome news.

Following the example of Procter & Gamble Co. and Hallmark Cards shows of yesteryear, McCann-made productions will be bankrolled and owned by advertiser clients. First up will be a Christmas movie for CBS backed by Johnson & Johnson, General Motors Corp. and Nestle USA; CBS has also brought in Kmart Corp. as a partner.

Fresh perspectives and new ideas should be encouraged, and no one will dispute that TV can use a healthy dose of both. Advertisers with open wallets -- and open minds -- willing to finance worthwhile entertainment should be applauded.

When radio ruled the airwaves and in the salad days of broadcast TV, the relationship between program and sponsor was, to put it mildly, a very close one. But things have changed since the days when Jack Benny could take an on-air break in the action to have a Lucky Strike. Today's viewers are already getting more than their fair share of ad-time. According to MindShare's Clutter Watch report, NBC has joined ABC in airing more than a quarter hour of national commercials and national promotions during every 60 minutes of primetime programming. It's an alarming and ironic trend when you consider that overall broadcast network ratings have been sliding.

The last thing viewers want and marketers need is more ad clutter. Rampant product placement and storylines that are clearly meant to serve an advertiser's agenda will not translate into high ratings or consumer loyalty. But good entertainment will translate into good ratings and good will, and that would be good news all around.

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