In the 1930s, salesman Elmer Wheeler told his followers to “Sell the sizzle, not the steak.” That sentiment still holds true today. Last week’s sizzle? The MTV Video Music Awards. When putting together our August buys, almost all of our cable vendors tried to sell us on the VMA’s. Very few of us took them up on the offer.

Placing a spot in a highly-watched awards show may seem like a great idea, but a spot in such an event can be expensive, and its impact may fall short. Ahead of the VMA’s, Kia’s new Soul commercial, featuring slimmed downed hamsters and that awful new Lady Gaga song was teased on media outlets and advertising industry blogs alike. Everyone talked about it before the VMA’s, but no one was talking about it after.

It should have been memorable–it aired in almost every commercial pod. But it was upstaged by a foam finger, Alan Thicke’s son dressed as Beetlejuice and Hannah Montana Gone Wild. All those advertising dollars–both invested in creating the spot (seriously, they actual rented that Lady Gaga song) and airing it for naught. Kia shouldn’t feel too bad. On Monday, when we expected the news to report on the dire situations in Syria or Egypt or the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s civil rights speech, we read about Miley’s moves.

Would your media budget have benefited at all...during the insanity that was Miley Cyrus?

Would your media budget have benefited at all…during the insanity that was Miley Cyrus?

As media planners, we need to decide if placing spots in high profile events make sense for our clients. Sure, the Super Bowl is built for advertising, but can you say the same for the VMA’s, the Grammys or even the Oscars? More often than not, the high rating, high price tag programming will do little to improve a campaign, and those dollars could be better spent adding additional networks and spots instead. The sizzle sounds great, but you may wish you could send the steak back.