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Four things marketers learned from Mark Burnett today

Mark Burnett and Roma Downey with the cast and crew on set at the Ouarzazate Museum location for The Bible.

Joe Alblas

Persuasion Notebook offers quick hits on the business of persuasion from The Globe and Mail's marketing and advertising reporter, Susan Krashinsky. Read more on The Globe's marketing page and follow Susan on Twitter @Susinsky.

The man who brought The Voice and Survivor to life and created the fastest-selling TV miniseries ever ( The Bible ) knows a thing or two about selling to advertisers. The blockbuster producer was in Toronto on Tuesday for the Canadian Media Directors' Council conference. Some highlights from his talk:

1) Cialis and The Bible don't mix.

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The people behind the series had to be hands-on about the content advertised against the show. That meant careful screening against erectile dysfunction ads, to protect the other family-friendly advertisers drawn to the show. Mr. Burnett cited Walmart as an example of a company that would not have taken kindly to appearing near a Cialis spot: the savvy marketers use "red" as a term for non-family-friendly content. Mr. Burnett's team worked hard to stay out of the red.

2) The people who get voted off Survivor die, at least metaphorically.

Thought The Bible was the only show of his with bigger themes? Mr. Burnett said the "tribal council" finale of every episode of the show – now in its 26th season – is a carefully constructed metaphor for death. The orange colours of the flame are present throughout each council, and when someone is voted off, their torch is extinguished. The producers deliberately switch the music from upbeat to a "funereal" tone at that point, and each cast member walks from the warm orange light of the set into a blue light, and then "disappears into the trees." The host then gives a "parable," he said, instructing the remaining people on what they've learned, and always says, "I'll see you tomorrow," when everything begins again. Every new day – every new episode – is "a rebirth," Mr. Burnett said.

3) Metrics are good; emotions are better.

Digital advertising is hugely appealing because of the ability to track the return on investment. But Mr. Burnett believes that emotion can play a more powerful role – advertisers should want to sell products because people believe in, or are touched by, what the brand is associated with, he said.

4) The people making TV shows aren't necessarily the best storytellers out there, according to a guy who makes TV shows.

Growing up in England, Mr. Burnett was raised on a tradition of ads that told stories. "Some of the best storytellers I've ever met work at ad agencies," Mr. Burnett said. That's because telling short stories – the kind you see in 30-second commercials or in a single shot online – is much more difficult to do well than telling a story with more time on your hands. He said these talents at ad agencies could be working more closely with advertisers to produce programming for them. "Why don't they make some shows themselves?"

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