Dr. Pepper, Stephen Colbert, and Ivan Pavlov walk into an advertisement

I make an effort to watch every single episode of the Colbert Report and the Daily Show. Sure, I occasionally find myself weeks — months — behind, but I fastidiously plug along even when it means reviewing tomorrow’s headlines, three weeks from now. And as you know, I often make the advertisements I’m forced to watch on repeat in the course of my endeavors the subject of posts like today’s.

So it felt a little bit like betrayal when, after years of conditioning at the hands of Stephen Colbert, my vigilance and commitment were turned against me for the sake of product placement.

I speak, of course, of the latest offering from Dr. Pepper. The offending ads feature a mountain man (though I like to think of him as a caveman — perhaps a member of Dr. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, with an emphasis on club) engaged in various manly, outdoorsy, Americany activities. The surface appeal to Colbert is obvious. But the ad represents something much more sinister upon closer inspection — and not just because Colbert agreed to air an advertisement so prominently featuring the #1 threat to America (Bears!):

I’m also deeply troubled by what this ad represents from a marketing perspective. It might seem harmless and neutral, until you reflect for a moment on the context in which it’s played: right before the Colbert Report intro/opening credits/theme song. And that’s just calculated and diabolical and genius.

Here’s why:

People don’t love commercials — this is why God created Tivo. But for some inexplicable reason, He did not choose to create Tivo for the internet for Comedy Central websites, which means you can’t watch (easily and legally) Colbert without the commercials.

But you do have some recourse. And often, for me, that means leaving the room for the first 30-60 seconds after I navigate to The Colbert Report – Full Episodes page. Until recently, I could reliably count on my sharp ear (a joke) to call me back: when it picked up the high-pitched, shrill, distinctive sound that plays at the outset of every episode of the Colbert Report, right at the beginning of the intro/opening credits/theme song, I knew it was time to return.

All that changed with the introduction of this month’s caveman ad. I quickly began to notice that I was popping back in to check on my computer well in advance of the show’s actual opening. And it took me a few more days to finally figure out why my previously-reliable timing was so off. Take another listen for yourself:

Years of watching Colbert had conditioned me to associate that high-pitched, shrill, distinctive sound — as it happens, the patriotic American sound of an eagle’s cry — with the beginning of a new episode of the Colbert Report. Dr. Pepper took advantage of all those years of training to summon me back just in time to hear all about the manliest low-calorie soda in the history of mankind.

Well played, Dr. Pepper. Well played.

All this leaves us with just one outstanding question: great product placement — or the greatest product placement?

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