Product Placement

23 Sep 2004|Added Value

While the advertising community debates whether or not personal video recorders like TiVo mark the final death blow for the 30-second television spot, many are quick to suggest other forms of branding that are more “integrated” into the actual content.

Neither “product placement” in TV and movies nor client-sponsored original programming is a new phenomenon; in fact “soap operas” are known as such because they were originally produced by the advertisers such as P&G (the maker of Tide). Still, with the increased attention this type of marketing is getting, I think it’s important for advertisers to not forget the consumer’s experience as the viewer.

A show I watched last night provides a good example of both “good” and “bad.”

First, I have to admit that, yes, I watch Nip/Tuck on FX. Moving right along….

Last night in the opening scene, one of the main characters, a successful plastic surgeon, was sitting in his expensive parked car with his date discussing what movie to rent. As he exits to go into the video store, he tells the woman something to the effect of “you can sit here and listen to the XM radio.” We then see her rocking out in the car to music while waiting for him to return.

Part of the reason I can’t quote the dialog verbatim is that it was delivered so awkwardly and artificially, it just seemed …well, weird! To me it was very obvious that XM paid for this mention of their brand to be “integrated into the content.” As a viewer, I was really turned off.

To be fair, as a regular Nip/Tuck viewer, I know that XM satellite radio is a sponsor of the show. In fact, if memory serves, they sponsored a commercial-free airing of the season premiere episode (and as a consumer it’s my perception that counts anyway).

This is interesting, because this “commercial-free” event made a positive impression on me. Even though I was already aware of both XM and their competitor in satellite radio Sirius, I had no real opinion about either one. But XM’s association with the show and the positive experience of getting to watch it without interruption did register (and probably more than a plain old 30 second spot would).

It’s unfortunate that this was followed by what seemed like the forced mention of the brand during the show (and maybe ironic because had they not been such an overt sponsor, I might not have noticed the gaffe).

What’s also interesting is that in the same scene, there was a much better example of “product placement,” namely the Mercedes in which this whole interplay took place. While the character is shopping, his car gets vandalized and we see a quick glimpse of the Mercedes logo on the rims and the hood; but when the villains comment on the car, they don’t name-check the brand. Nevertheless, I found myself trying to figure out exactly which model he was driving so I could find out more about it.

Whether either brand paid for placement in this instance isn’t as important as the fact that integrating into content means more than inserting “brand x” into the script. It has to be natural from the creative aspect of the show (I’m sure vain, egotistical bad-boy plastic surgeon Christian would have the most exclusive model Mercedes, but would he really know about satellite radio, let alone refer to it by brand?) and it’s important to get a realistic assessment of how consumers will really react.

I might be over-reacting in this specific instance, but with the prevalence of thinly-veiled product-placement vehicles in the reality-TV genre, the trend seems to be on the upswing. So let’s figure out how to do it in a way that works for both the brand and the people watching.

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