In the past I’ve thought about writing a journal explaining how some behind the scenes stuff works here at RT, and in light of recent concerns about a sponsor I figured I should give you some insight as to how ad reads happen. I think this is good background info to help shed light on the current situation because I’ve read many misconceptions about the process. I’m going to use Hims as my example in this journal.
I want to start by saying nobody at Fullscreen or Rooster Teeth forces me to read ad copy for a sponsor I didn’t approve. Ads can come in a few different ways. Sometimes external agencies sell against our inventory, sometimes our internal sales team sells them, but regardless of who sells the ad, I deal directly with the RT sales team. When our sales team is talking to a potential new sponsor interested in advertising on RT Podcast they will let me know who the potential sponsor is and ask if I approve or have any concerns or objections. I normally look into the company or product and try to get a feel of how people talk about them online. I’ve disapproved many potential sponsors in the past and have never had pushback when I disapprove one. For example, here is the email I received from the sales team regarding Hims (the email was addressed to the decision makers for the shows listed below):
One of our agencies reached out about this, so let me know if neither/ both or which one would make sense as a sponsor. (Same company, two products- hair loss and erectile dysfunction pills.)
I made it very clear that it would be difficult for us to promote ED pills with a straight face, but apparently they have a sense of humor...
Anyway- understand if this doesn't fit but looking at:
AH Livestream, Heroes and Halfwits
AHWU and Off Topic
Glitch Please and The Know
After doing my usual research I came to an easy conclusion (and I only make the decision for RT Podcast):
I'm fine with both.
Not every show producer was comfortable with this ad read, so some shows turned down the sponsor. Once the sales team hears from the show producer they move forward with getting the ad copy and scheduling the read. Due to the popularity of these reads there can sometimes be a large delay before we do the read. For example, I gave Hims a go ahead on August 14th 2017 but didn’t do the first ad read until March 5th 2018. On February 27th 2018 I had an on-boarding conference call to discuss the campaign with the external agency that sold the ad and the company itself. Normally on these calls we are given background on the company and go over the product and talking points for the product. This is a time for us to have our questions answered directly by the sponsor. We typically only do on-boarding calls for new sponsors but sometimes we’ll have refresher on-boarding calls with long time sponsors who may have new products or talking points. So much time had passed since I initially approved Hims that I had forgotten I approved them. After the on-boarding call I was actually concerned that this campaign had come in unapproved so I sent off an email to the RT sales team verifying that I had approved this campaign. They reminded me of our earlier conversation about this sponsor and I was ready to move forward.
After the on-boarding call we finalize the copy that I will read and the graphics used for the video podcast. Sometimes the sponsor supplies the copy, sometimes they don’t. I don’t know where the Hims copy came from. I think it was written internally because before the second ad read I received a message from one of the producers in the Broadcast department. He was punching up the copy and since he was changing it he wanted approval on it. Here is the message exchange we had:
Hey Gus - I'm punching up these ads for today, wanted to share with you a piece of this so (A) you can check it out and don't get blindsided by stage directions, and (B) so you can object if you hate it. Here's a part where i put a dumb little side comment trying to make these more conversational. LMK if you hate it:
If you have this problem, check out forhims.com, a one stop shop for hair loss, skincare, and sexual wellness for men. *(to panel-->)* I always wondered where you can get that sexual healing they talk about in that song. HIMS provides medical grade solutions, real doctors who offer quality generic equivalents to name brand prescriptions to help you keep your hair where it belongs!
My reply was:
Perfect. Thank you for this!
About thirty minutes before the podcast goes live one of our other producers gathers up all the copy for that episode and preps it for me so that I have them all on my laptop to read during the show. I’ll review them and if I have any last minute questions I’ll pop into the control room to chat with the team. If you ever watch the live pre-stream and you see me in the control room with my laptop I’m normally asking a question about copy, ad timing, on screen graphic placement, or something else related to the ad reads. Then we go live and you see the rest. I try to space the ad reads out during the show so that there aren’t too many back to back and we don’t wait until too close to the end of the show.
People often comment on the way I perform ad reads and they frequently have good advice, but I want you to know the methodology behind my approach to the reads. Some viewers ask why I don’t become more energetic or try to be upbeat and incorporate the copy into the show. I try to intentionally maintain a fairly flat delivery so that it is clear when I am doing the ad read and when I’m not. There have of course been exceptions in the past for bigger activations like the Smirnoff “Side Car” or Pizza Hut’s “The Feed”.
Once the show is released I keep tabs on comments on our site and other social media avenues. Part of this is reading how people react to the ad reads. Recently someone contacted me via twitter because they took exception to some ad copy I read for a different sponsor. They felt the copy was worded in a way that was deceptive. I looked at the copy again and could see his point of view. I sent an email to our sales team alerting them to the concern. They looked into it, talked to the sponsor, and the copy was changed to address the concern.
Ok, now that all that background and process is established I’d like to talk more in-depth specifically about Hims.
The controversial reaction to Hims has surprised some of us at RT, including myself. I did my first ad read for Hims on March 5th and the second ad read on April 2nd. The first read focused primarily on the hair loss medication and the second read was the first to mention the erectile dysfunction medication. There wasn’t too much feedback after the first read, but there definitely was a lot more after the second. I wanted to address some of the concerns I saw posted online.
The first concern was that our audience is too young for this type of product and we were marketing pharmaceuticals to teenagers. Some RT shows do have a young demographic but RT Podcast listeners are one of our oldest skewing audiences. An example of the fact that the audience is older is actually shown by the fact we have had alcohol sponsors in the past. In the United States if you advertise alcohol then no more than 28.4% of your audience can be under the age of 21.
Another concern was that the products were “snake oil”. The products sold by Hims are prescription drugs approved by the FDA for the purposes they are advertised for. Finasteride is the generic version of Propecia which is used to treat male hair loss. Sildenafil is the generic version of Viagra which is used to treat erectile dysfunction.
Some commenters were uncomfortable with the idea of this service helping a patient circumvent their in-person doctor visit and get pharmaceuticals through online consultation. I personally thought this was a super convenient idea and I wish I could have this type of regular consultation with my general doctor. I do think this is the future of medicine and doctor appointments. I can definitely see the cause for concern but I don’t want anyone to think that the service just allows you to order pharmaceuticals with no oversight. You do give your medical history to a real doctor via the service who reviews it and your overall health before determining whether or not you qualify for the medications. You can also provide a prescription from your regular doctor if you have one. Either way, you simply can’t buy prescription medicine in the United States without having a prescription from a doctor.
From what I understand I think that the United States and New Zealand are the only countries in the world that allow direct to consumer advertising of prescription medicine. I think this fact is also what has caused some of the concern from our audience. In the US we are used to seeing medicine ads and ignoring the ones that are irrelevant to us. I also think that since the US doesn’t have a national healthcare system that most Americans don’t have a general practitioner that they see so this type of service is attractive to them. That last one is just a hunch I have, no solid proof on that one.
In reading the comments about this topic I discovered one other bit of information I found interesting. Viagra is available over the counter in the UK http://www.bbc.com/news/health-42155489. I don’t bring that up as a justification for the ad reads, just as a bit of information to highlight how different countries treat medicine and the healthcare system differently.
Why didn’t we say anything sooner? I actually wanted to address some of the concern on Monday’s podcast and told Burnie about it before the show went live but we never got around to it. I really wish I had talked about it then because there’s definitely been way more discussion in the community since then. Internally we’ve been talking about this and we have people on all sides of the issue. We couldn’t really make a statement or address this until we knew what we wanted to say.
With this controversy swirling in our community, we realize the easy thing for us to do here would be to cancel our contract with Hims. We do need advertisers to support our podcasts, but we don’t need all of them. We turn down advertisers all the time that we don’t think fit out standards.
However, we don’t want to make a reactionary decision here, because we genuinely do think this is a good service. Many men find talking to their own doctor in person about these issues and other health issues difficult and embarrassing. It’s a real problem. And yes, these issues do affect young men in not insignificant numbers. A service that helps men get past that embarrassment and get help is a good thing.
Rooster Teeth tries to be a sex-positive company. We believe in addressing sex and sex-related issues in open and frank ways, and we think sexual health is important for everyone. If erectile dysfunction medicine helps some people enjoy their lives, then more power to them.
Some members of our community have suggested that it is morally wrong to advertise any prescription medicine whatsoever. Burnie has commented on past podcasts that advertising for prescription medications in the U.S. is way over the top. And by and large, he’s right, especially when you compare the U.S. to the rest of the world, where most countries have no advertisements for it at all. It’s unlikely we will ever partner with another prescription medicine advertiser, it’s not something we seek out. However, we’re not ready to say they are all bad. The health care system in the U.S. is extremely convoluted, which is a much bigger topic than we can address here, but people still need to know about medicines that can help them. This subject just deserves a more nuanced conversation.
Now that you have heard us out and understand our decision making process, we look forward to getting additional feedback from you. Like I said, we want to have an honest and open discussion about this, and one that is based on facts and not rumors or gossip. As the person that has the final say over this and all the other advertisements on the RT Podcast, I feel this is very important to get right. Our community is extremely important to us, and so is making decisions like these for the right reasons. Please leave your comments below and we also look forward to discussing with everyone on the next RT Podcast.