South Park Sets Its Sights on Advertising Yet Again, Blasting Branded Content and Targeted Ads

The kids learn anything (or anyone) could be an ad

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Trey Parker and Matt Stone hysterically satirized ad blocking and sponsored content during the Nov. 18 episode of South Park, but it turns out the show creators still had plenty more to get off their chest about the advertising industry.

The duo kept up their satirical assault on advertising during last night's episode, "Truth and Advertising," which again hilariously lampooned the industry as part of the ongoing Season 19 storyline about political correctness, gentrification and the dogged persistence of ads to manipulate us at all costs. 

The episode picked up where the last one, "Sponsored Content," left off, with the revelation that Leslie, a new student introduced this season, is not a human but an ad that has adapted to its environment. Jimmy, the editor of the school newspaper, who rejected several demands to run sponsored content, summarizes the current state of advertising:

"For years, mankind has tried to rid the world of ads. For our ancestors, ads couldn't be avoided, but everyone knew what was an ad and what wasn't. After many years, mankind invented cable: a way to pay for television so there would be no ads. But somehow the ads still found a way. And so mankind invented Tivo: a way to skip past commercials. Finally, it appeared to be the end of ads, and everywhere, people rejoiced. The ads were stopped, or so it seemed. With the rise of the internet, suddenly the ads had an entirely new way to attack us: pop-ups. The top scientific minds were brought together to find a way to stop the ads once and for all. They invented the ad blocker. Suddenly there were no ads on phones, on computers, and everywhere, people rejoiced.

"But the ads adapted. They became smarter. They disguised themselves as news. All around the world, people read news stories, completely unaware they were reading ads. And now, the ads have taken the next step in their evolution. They have taken human form. Ads are among us, they could be your friend, your gardener. The ads are trying to wipe us out. The question is … how?"

For much of the episode a group of former newsmen ("We watched as our entire industry was taken over by the ads," says the leader, voiced by Bill Hader) urge Jimmy to convince Leslie, the ad-turned-human, to reveal the ads' master plan.

When Jimmy says that maybe Leslie isn't out to harm them, the newsman replies: "Believe me, I know how you feel. Ads promise us things. Ads are perfect. But make no mistake: all ads lie. And all ads deceive." With that, the show cuts to a commercial break. 

Later in the program, the rest of the South Park students are trying to get to the bottom of Jimmy and Leslie's disappearance from school, but every time they log on to the computer to do research, the computer distracts them with strategically targeted, and effective, pop-up ads for a guitar, the Victor Frankenstein movie and ice cream. Before they know it, they end up delightedly eating junk food and trying on new sneakers at a store, having completely forgotten about their investigation.

Leslie ultimately does turn out to have manipulated Timmy, just as the newsman predicted, though her endgame has yet to be revealed. As the episode concludes, Leslie approaches Kyle (who does not yet know she's really an ad), promising to give him the answers he and his friends have been looking for. "You have to trust me," she tells him. "What's the last four digits of your soc[ial security number]?"

While "Truth and Advertising" wasn't quite as inspired as the previous episode, "Sponsored Content," it successfully built up anticipation for next Wednesday's season finale, where Parker and Stone will likely continue to hold the advertising industry's feet to the fire.

Here's the full episode:


@jasonlynch Jason Lynch is TV Editor at Adweek, overseeing trends, technology, personalities and programming across broadcast, cable and streaming video.