Issue: What is the Brand Promise of Reality TV?
Commentary by: David Vinjamuri
The current fifth season of the reality show “Jon & Kate Plus 8” is the most popular in the show’s history, with the premier show drawing nearly 10 million viewers.Â Part of the reason for the audience growth this season has been the marital troubles of Jon & Kate Gosselin, which came to a head as the couple filed for divorce on June 23rd.
One news item that followed this announcement begs a brand question: Kate claims in her divorce filing to have been separated from John for two years.Â Â Initially the separation appears to have been limited to Jon moving to a room above the garage.Â Now the couple has separated completely.Â Other sources claim that the separation is “legal mumbo jumbo” and that the physical separation occurred just a week ago.Â Whatever the truth, one fact is clear – the couple has had significant marital issues for much longer than they’d acknowledged.
Which brings us to the central brand question here: what is the brand promise of reality TV?Â Is it to be real and honest?Â Certainly a show on TLC (which was once The Learning Channel) would want to accurately represent the subjects.Â And while Jon & Kate Plus 8 undoubtedly focuses on the kids, a primary reason many people watch it is to answer the basic question: how do you hold your marriage together with that many kids?
So the brand promise must be to honestly depict a family, with all of its flaws and foibles.Â And by hiding that truth, for weeks or months, Jon & Kate Plus 8 let down its faithful brand advocates.Â Which reveals an inherent problem with the reality genre.Â Jon & Kate may have been doing the best thing for their family in trying to hide or at least minimize their marital problems.Â But it was the wrong thing for the brand.Â That is a difficult way to live.