Tuesday, October 2, 2018

TV Deep Dive: Brought to You By Coca-Cola

To understand why Charles Schulz was willing to incorporate such blatant advertising into his specials, we must look back at how American television was funded in its early years.

 In the beginning, most programming was presented by one sponsor. This was a holdover from radio, which used the same method for financing programming. On these shows, advertising was directly inserted into the shows. For example, Texaco’s Star Theater might feature a song or skit extolling Texaco’s virtues. The line between program and advertisement was therefore extremely blurred. Even more concerning to creators was that the sponsors had a ton of control over show content. A representative for the sponsor would sit in on every meeting with full veto control.

By the mid-1960’s, however, this method of sponsorship had lost favor with both the television networks and the advertisers. The networks could gain more freedom over their own production slates by selling 30 & 60 second slots to multiple advertisers who were removed from the production process completely. Advertisers enjoyed the freedom to spread their advertising dollars around instead of putting all of it in one basket. Some advertisers still liked the old method, however, so a hybrid was formed. That was the method used for the Peanuts specials.

This hybrid sponsorship typically had one or two “named” sponsors, in this case, Coca-Cola and Dolly Madison. In addition to getting featured in the opening title sequence as part of the animation, the brands would be featured in all CBS advertising in the run up to the airing. Additionally, there would be a handful of traditional slots divvied up among the two sponsors. The remaining inventory could be sold by CBS, who could pocket the proceeds as their share of the program’s profits. CBS was restricted from selling ads to Pepsi or Hostess Snack Cakes, But could otherwise sell the slots as it wished. It was a win for everyone involved.

At first, CBS had viewed a Peanuts special as being too risky and expensive. With builtin sponsorship, the network became more comfortable with airing the programming. If Charles Schulz hadn’t already brought along Coca-Cola and Dolly Madison, he might have never been able to produce the show at all. That he was able to produce such high quality programming without too much commercialism creeping into the content was cause for celebration.