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November 24, 2014

Products galore...and you can't avoid them

by Allison Waldman, posted Feb 22nd 2008 11:04AM
30 Days dinnerIs it really a big surprise that television advertising isn't as effective as it used to be? As TV watchers -- okay, we're uber-watchers -- we know that with DVRs and TiVos we're zooming through ads, or we're channel surfing in between segments of our favorite shows, or renting/buying content in formats that allow us to avoid commercials altogether. Now, according to the Association of National Advertisers and Forrester Research's TV & Technology Survey, we learn that six out of 10 marketers believe that TV advertising has become less effective in the past two years. And it's getting worse.

What are these experts going to do to combat the downturn in the advertising biz? They're going to increase ads in online TV shows, embed more ads in video on demand, and especially, explore new ad formats -- which they're already doing big-time. Product placement is rampant on TV these days, from the Tresemme hair salon on Project Runway to the use of Cisco Systems teleconferencing technology on 24. And that's just the tip of the iceberg. I won't even mention the myriad of products strewn about the American Idol stage.

Then there's the technique called product integration. You may recall an episode of Friday Night Lights where Eric and Tami went out to dinner at Applebee's – yeah, the real chain restaurant like you have in your town. On The New Adventures of Old Christine, characters went shopping at Home Depot. And then there was the Christmas party episode on The Office, where Michael put an Apple iPod in the Secret Santa gift pool? Those placements were all commercials, my friends.

Here are a few more examples, and most are done in ways that are smarter than most commercials. On How I Met Your Mother, there was the show where Ted met a girl while he was playing the video game The World of Warcraft. The entire ABC soap opera line up -- All My Children, One Life to Live, and General Hospital -- promoted American Heart Month thanks to a major in-show promotion by Campbell Soups. CSI gave Planet Hollywood's new casino in Las Vegas mucho plugola last November.

One of the oldest ways to make commercials palatable to the consumer is by having a single sponsor for an entire episode. Phillip Morris cigarettes were I Love Lucy's main sponsor, for instance. Kellogg's breakfast cereal used to bring us The Beverly Hillbillies. Recently, Cadillac sponsored the premiere of Damages on FX. When the hour presented the show's star Glenn Close standing beside the new Caddy, having her explain that Damages was presented without commercials thanks to Cadillac, that product plug was off the charts in terms of audience engagement according to IAG Research.

Advertisers are desperate to find ways to get us to recognize products to the extent that they're getting very creative. They have to because according to this study, more than half of respondents said that when DVR devices have saturated at least 50% of the U.S. consumer market -- it's currently only about 25% -- they will cut TV ad spending by 12%. And that is what has producers and networks shaking in their loafers.

Perhaps one of the most creative ways to get us to stay tuned during the commercials is by using what's called the commercial pod. That's when they put the characters we've been watching during the show right into the commercial, or extend the concept of the show into the commercial. Mad Men, for instance, created trivia slugs and questions in between segments of the AMC drama, then tied them in to commercials. On Psych, the animated Big Adventures of Little Shawn and Gus, were a way to sell AllTel cell phones. NBC's Lipstick Jungle offers makeup tips based on the characters in the show, you know, "You can have Nico's look by using..."

Of course, not all the TV shows are playing along. Some are fighting the invasive ads. 30 Rock had an episode where Liz Lemon and her writers protested the very idea of product placement, even while they were extolling the wonders of Snapple, which they were all drinking! That's biting the hand that feeds you, and creator/star Tina Fey's obviously not above taking a few more shots. In a recent episode, when her character's family comes to visit in New York, they all went out to eat at a restaurant called Saturdaze, a broadside slam at TGIFriday's.

Overall, we have no choice but to accept that advertising will find a way to seep into our programming. I don't mind too much, especially if the advertisers at least attempt to be entertaining us while they do their sell job. That's not too much to ask in exchange for my buying their products, is it?

[via TV Barn]

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Zach

Seeing the iPod on the office is what made me want one, now I am completely converted to apple products, it's the one time that advertising has had that effect on me.

February 23 2008 at 10:51 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Sarmad

I like the idea of product placement. When it's done right (which it mostly has) it just gives the show a real feel. My best example would be the HIMYM reference to warcraft that Allison mentions. I really didn't even think it was product placement when I first saw it. It fit so well with the story line that I thought it was just part of the normal script. Later on I thought that it may have been product placement, but then I was even more impressed on how well they integrated it into the story.

Of course if a show screws up, it just looks stupid. My only glaring example is a season 5 (I think) Smallville espisode in which we see a shot of 'Old Spice' deodorant. It was in Clark Kent's locker! He's freaking superman. He doesn't need a deodorant to play football. At that point I was kind of annoyed at the thoughtless placement of the product. I'm sure they can do better than that.

But yea, bottom line, product placement seems a lot better than regular advertisements to me.

February 22 2008 at 11:19 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
erroneous_nick

Product placement beats the heck out of "regular" commercials. I'd rather see characters go into a bar and order a Budweiser instead of a "beer". Product placement in lieu of commercials would be something I'd welcome. I can't help but think we'd get more actual story and the advertising would be more effective, although I'm sure network execs will figure out a way to make it intrusive and annoying. Done well, it could be good for all.

February 22 2008 at 6:45 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
A.S

Meh, I don't mind product placements, as long as they make sense in the context of the show.

February 22 2008 at 5:03 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
sitruc

So how much did you and TVSquad get for all the name dropping in the semi-annual product placement piece? ;)

February 22 2008 at 4:08 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Jeremy

The best placement on tv right now is on 10 Items or Less.
"I know your secret with the ladies...you use the Axe right?"
or this week two customers were fighting over friskies cat food.
You know you are watching a commercial, but it integrated well enough to not be annoying.

The worst placement on TV award goes to Survivor. With shots of the group seen through the basket of Doritos. Or always referring to their text messages by brand name. Horribly integrated and grating.

February 22 2008 at 2:26 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Steve Flack

I'm all for product placement. It makes things seem more natural. Nothing bothers me more than seeing characters drink "COLA", instead of Coke or Pepsi.

February 22 2008 at 12:59 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
kevjohn

I have no problem whatsoever with product placements. Serves you bums right for skipping the breaks with your TiVos.

I think product placements can add to the reality and believability of a show. GE Healthcare sponsors House, and a lot of their products make appearances in the show. But there aren't too many companies that make MRI machines. So why make up something when the real one will do fine? That episode of The Office wouldn't have been one bit funnier if Michael had gotten some made up gadget instead of the iPod. They would have had to explain to the audience how coveted that doohickey he was giving away was; whereas with the iPod that's already a given. And there have been so many versions of "Saturdaze" (Chotchkie's in "Office Space"?) employed as comic jabs at Applebees et. al., that at this point the joke is dead. May as well use the real Applebees and use they money that they'll give you to hire a better writer than the one that came up with the novel idea of mocking Applebees.

February 22 2008 at 12:59 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
stjohnob

The Bill Engval show was rampant with product placement. So obvious too. I will say that I saw the ziplock steam bags on the show, and I did buy them. Guess I'm a sucker!
30 Rock and the Verizon Wireless show was great.
How about Knight Rider and the Ford Sync ads.

February 22 2008 at 12:34 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Edd

I loved that Arrested Development episode where they ate at Burger King,w hich sponsored an episode.

Carl Weathers: "You know you get free refills here?"
Tobias: "It's a wonderful restaurant!"
Narrator: "It SURE is!"

30 Rock's attempts - "Can I have my money now?" seemed too forced, but still subversive.

My big giggle of 2007 was seeing NBC fall out with Apple - then finding Apple/iPod references in every single one of their shows during the first few months of the season :-)

February 22 2008 at 11:43 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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