All Blog Posts

Time-travel advertising: New ads in old reruns

Nick Gorski

Screen capture via stjarna!'s photostream on Flickr

Keen-eyed viewers of the popular sitcom How I Met Your Mother were treated to a pretty bizarre surprise recently. An episode originally shot and aired in 2007 was re-run this month with a small addition: an advertisement for the 2011 film The Zookeeper, digitally imposed onto a magazine behind a couch where one of the show’s characters was sitting. In the How I Met Your Mother universe, it was an ad for a movie from the future! Although I’m sure Zookeeper is a delightful summer film (cough), I think something definitely seems odd about seeing product placement for a 2011 movie in a 2007 TV episode.

This method of “virtual advertising” is nothing new. Live TV viewers of nationally televised baseball games have seen virtual ads behind home plate dating back to at least 2002. But, as’s Marc Hirsh points out, the Zookeeper example is curious because it involves “altering a creative work that has been completed and published,” the work in this case being the How I Met Your Mother episode. Hirsh also notes that the ad in this example (pictured above) is so subtle that it's almost pointless, which in a way makes the whole concept seem a little more silly and obnoxious.

The counterpoint to those who are skeptical about this form of advertising is simple: with today’s prevalence of DVRs and other options enabling viewers to bypass traditional commercials, thus lowering the commercials’ value, networks are under a lot of pressure to identify new revenue streams. True, seeing an ad for a movie from the future in an old TV episode is a little surreal, but maybe, without innovations like virtual advertising, we won’t even have any network sitcoms left to entertain us in a few years.

Hey, at least we can all be glad that The Zookeeper has still done lousy business at the box office.

What do you think—got anything to add about virtual advertising?