Monday, April 24, 2017

VCR and Post-TV (Core-Post 5)

In Lotz's paper "Television Outside the Box," the VCR was cited as one of the "first technologies to trouble understandings of television" by being a transitionary development between traditional forms of tv, which dictated when you watched a type of content, to what we describe today as Post-TV digital media (52). Not only did VCR's allow people to view film, which at the time was considered more artistically credible, but gave viewers freedom from the bombardment of commercials that traditionally interrupted a story's flow. Reading this paper gave me a sense of nostalgia towards my old VHS tapes but also led me to think about how corporations have evolved advertisements to make them more watchable and how they’ve worked around viewers’ to watch commercial-free content.

Like in early television shows like The Goldbergs, corporations seemed to find ways to embed their advertisements into tv/film-like content, some specifically disguising commercials into VHS-ready plot/character-focused story-telling. With this in mind, McDonald’s straight-to-video series The Wacky Adventures of Ronald McDonald is a perfect example. From 1998-2003, McDonald’s sold VHS tapes in stores and used popular Nickelodeon-esque animation and humor to create brand loyalty in children (in fact they were created by the same creators/musicians from popular Nickelodeon shows). These videos put McDonald’s trademark characters into a world and situations that children could respond to, keeping their interest for longer than a one or two minute commercial. What seems smart about this strategy is that it used a tangible object (a vhs tape) to create the idea that what is essentially an extended commercial can actually be seen as a gift or reward from parent to child. The convergence was from store to TV, creating a new means of increasing revenue in addition to brand awareness. Moving forward to today, these VHS tapes might be obsolete but McDonalds has found new ways to appeal to children in contemporary forms. is an interactive site where children can play games, watch videos, and check out the new toys offered in happy meals. They can do it with more mobility than a VHS tape, which has to go directly into a television, which allows them to interact with McDonalds at anytime they want. The site is essentially an extensive advertisement whose sales-based agenda is more entertaining and less skippable than a commercial.


  1. Very interesting! I agree this looks such a clever tactics (even though it is still hard for me to process how the figure of Ronald could be used to attract children/costumers rather than repelling/scaring them off—creepy, with very disturbing connotations..)

    I only watched the first 10 minutes but based on that I was surprised how subtle “product placement” is. Besides Ronald, there is the logo (and the red-yellow color scheme) everywhere, but other than that, I could only spot one hamburger-shaped building; Big Mac is mentioned once; and that's it. I’d say this relative unobtrusiveness must have been a good choice on part of the creators.

  2. I have distinct memories of watching the Ronald McDonald tapes! Thanks for the corporate memories :)

    As an advertising endeavor, they strike me as odd for several reasons beyond those that Katalin points out. For one, the VHS tapes were sold in McDonald's stores, meaning that their audiences have already been McDonald's customers. And two, the primary market demographic of these cartoons were children, who likely need no convincing to want to go back to McDonald's.

    Of course, these tapes engendered a brand mythos, which likely gave children a common narrative to assign to their cheeseburgers.