The end of Big Brother?

September 10, 2010

          Big Brother looks set to leave our screens tonight for good. From a marketing perspective, the show has given rise to many ways of promoting and advertising products. Both O2 and the Carphone Warehouse, have played on the housemate theme by encouraging viewers to “Get Connected” (O2) or “Get Together” (Carphone Warehouse) through their sponsorship of the programme. Beyond sponsorship, Big Brother has been the launchpad for a number of products. Shilpa Shetty launched her ‘S2’ fragrance in 2007, joining Jade’s ‘Shh’ on the shelves. A number of former housemates penned books following a stint on the show, including Chantelle’s ‘Living the Dream’. Even Mars spotted Big Brother’s potential for marketing. In 2008, they launched the Revels eviction campaign, asking fans to evict their least favourite flavour, which would then be replaced by a new unknown sweet.

          Before marketers begin to lament the end of an era, perhaps Big Brother could be viewed in a different way. We should be reminded that the show was inspired by a slogan from Orwell’s novel, 1984, stating that “Big Brother is watching you”. The show began as a social experiment and a modern day means of observing the interaction of up to 15 people with each other 24/7. Big Brother allows for more than clever sponsorship deals. It allows for anyone with access to Channel 4 to observe the idiosyncrasies of human behaviour.

          Consider the infamous Diary Room. It allows housemates to divulge information away from others. It allows them to bitch, to moan and to let go. It is a space in which thoughts are exposed. Meanwhile, in the house, every single action of the housemates is recorded. Therefore, viewers have access not only to peoples’ thoughts, but also to behaviour. Does behaviour reflect thought, as logic would tell us? Often it does not. One of the main goals of marketers is to change behaviour. However, it is not enough to present an idea to a target audience which they think positively about. Thoughts do not always correlate with behaviour, as Big Brother provides evidence for. This is why so much time and effort is put into creating messages which not only persuade, but also bring about a call to action.  

          Big Brother provides a good insight into other aspects of the human psyche. The viewer needs only to be armed with a sense of curiosity. Before getting upset about the loss of a major marketing opportunity, we should remind ourselves that access to episodes of the programme allow us to investigate psychological theories and principles, such as the presence of cliques in groups, the reality of many different personality types and conditions which bring about prejudice and discrimination. Either that or we can cross our fingers in the hope Richard Desmond resurrects the show for Channel 5 and allows Irish viewers access. 

Carly

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2 Responses to “The end of Big Brother?”

  1. Good post, Carly; but I think the psychologists who’ve gathered around Big Brother and who’ve commented on it for the show have been guilty of a sort of wrestling commentary: everyone knows wrestling’s fixed, but plenty of fans still watch it. Big Brother’s insights into thoughts and behaviour should be taken with a massive pinch of salt as the contestants are just not ‘real’ people in the way I’d understand that idea. Now maybe this isn’t true for the original series (I’ve never really watched it, so my own comments are not necessarily on the ball), but the stagemanaged feel to the show and the journalism around it make me feel we coud learn a lot more from looking at the the complicity of media and PR in contrived and sham programming.

    • theinfluentials said

      I agree that towards the end Big Brother became about people looking for their 15 minutes of fame and playing up for the camera as a result. I do feel, however, that there is more to the show than just this. The show has given some good demonstrations of some very real phenomena in the realm of social psychology. Remember the conflict between Jade and Shilpa? What a good demonstration of prejudice, whether it was down to race, class or other. When it comes down to it, people still behave according to innate drives, whether they’re in front of a camera or not.

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