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October 4, 2015

More signs of the product placement apocalypse

by Brett Love, posted Aug 5th 2008 8:25AM

Psych - Jeff Fahey and Mercedes Mcnab
Ah, product placement. It's a subject that's come up before. We have an award for it, and even as far back as those care free days of 2005, Karina was writing about the Screen Actors Guild and Writers Guild Of America protesting it. The telling quote from that piece, "Our writers are being told to perform the function of ad copywriter, but to disguise this as storytelling." And isn't that where most of us have always drawn the line in the sand? The placing of products into sets was kind of an understood cost of doing business, but having the writers change scripts to incorporate them was a whole other ball of (Turtle) wax. Unfortunately, those (Foster Farms) chickens have come home to roost.

As you can see in the picture leading off the post, Psych gave Dunkin Donuts a nice featured spot in the latest episode. That's not so bad, until you get to the dialog that accompanied it.

Shawn: You see that?
Gus: Yes. Now I'm in the mood for some coffee.
Shawn: What are you talking about?
Gus: Coffee, Shawn.
Shawn: What are you looking at?
Gus: The same thing you're looking at.
Shawn: It's a Dunkin Donuts patch Gus.
Gus: They have excellent coffee. They have one on my extended route.
Shawn: You know what, dude? You astound me. And now I must have a blueberry crumb. It's totally triggered my donut launch...
Gus: Will you focus Shawn?

Doesn't it make you cringe just a little? "They have excellent coffee." I get that Shawn and Gus often make odd and obscure observations, and it's one of the things I really like about the show, but that one was stretching it a little far for me. If it was for something off beat, and not so obviously a sponsor, okay. Something like Stan Mikita's coffee shop from Wayne's World, or even Canada's Tim Horton's, would have been funny. This was just a little sad for what it represents.

But wait... there's more, and it's worse. The Psych nuttiness is what prompted this post, but our friends in Eureka are what set it in motion. At the end of the big season premiere the new head of Global Dynamics, Eva Thorne, mentions that they need corporate partnership and private capital. She then introduces GD's first sponsor. And it's not quite as subtle as the Dunkin Donuts patch. Have a look.

Full frickin' screen. The topic came up in the comments for the season premiere post. I had let it go without comment, because I'd already heard about what was yet to come and figured there would be plenty of time to tackle the issue once the other shoe dropped. That shoe, as explained on the Eureka Unscripted tumblr (July 22nd entry), comes in the form of Degree being written into an episode, to the extent that it saves the day. Yikes. That's not crossing the line. That's kind of racing across it, tires spinning, as you grab another gear.

It's easy to look at that and say, "Oh, hell no." But there is another unfortunate side of that coin. As creator Jaime Paglia puts it in the tumblr post, "We don't just have to show the product. Now we have to actually integrate these things into our stories." Just as they feared back in 2005. He goes on to explain the reasoning behind it, "...the reason we're doing this particular story, incorporating our generous sponsor, is that without their participation, you wouldn't be getting nearly as much Eureka this season. It's a cold hard fact."

And that puts the viewer in a quandary. If the creators of the shows we love are having their hands tied by the bean counters, do you blame them for going along? Do you blame the studio for even making it an option? Or do you blame the sponsors for insisting on this level of inclusion? These are murky waters that the new world of television is swimming in.

Personally, I'm somewhat on the fence about it. Sure, given a choice, I would like to keep a giant wall between the sponsors and the writers. If we can't have that, I'll trust in the writers of my favorite shows to do right by their viewers. I suspect that as much as I loathe the idea of Degree saving the day, the Eureka team will do it in a fun way. Call it a guarded optimism I guess. Still, I can't help but think that these are the early steps down a road that's better left untraveled.

Sound off in the Circuit City comments, and don't forget to tally your vote in the Home Depot poll.

Where do you stand on products being written into scripts?
Oddly enough, I actually like it.38 (9.0%)
Eh, it's the cost of doing business. I'll still watch.114 (27.1%)
I don't like it, but I'm still watching, for now...163 (38.8%)
Oh, F this. It's like they're trying to chase me away from their show.105 (25.0%)

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The latter isn't much better. Witness the NEXT episode of Psych, which ends with a random meeting between Shawn and his father in RED ROBIN where Shawn consumes a strawberry milkshake and talks about how it is "one part strawberry, two parts awesome." Barf.

August 13 2008 at 11:09 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Jack Ketch

I gave up on 'realtime' TV altogether and only watch shows on DVD; I have very little tolerance for paying to watch something and still be subjected to advertising, one of the reasons my movie attendance has nosedived the last few years, and will not watch shows with embedded advertising.

I realize that any individual consumer is statistically insignificant, but personally I will not 'get used to it', I will continue to consume less and less media as the trend towards increased advertising continues.

August 07 2008 at 4:18 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

That Tina Fey placement was not funny - Arrested Development handled it their Burger King with wit, but her sticking her hand out to the camera and saying: 'Can we have our money now' wasn't amusing, it was the lamest 'product placement' joke to make.

I buy a book and read it, and don't expect to read lines telling me about new products and shops. I'd rather 'buy' TV shows than waste seconds of people peddling crap to me.

August 06 2008 at 7:46 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

These "integrations" just don't feel natural. I am taken out of the story completely and then so pissed off that I can't focus the rest of the show. if this is the future of TV, I'll just read a book.

Clearly you haven't been reading the publishing trades. This is old news there. Novels and children's books have been subsidized or commissioned by the likes of Bulgari and Saks 5th Avenue. Don't doscount "product placement" in your favorite author's next novel.

Advertising is a reality in our world. Sometimes it's subtle enough that you don't realize how it effects what you see. I was a travel magazine editor for years. The destinations that got coverage in print were the ones with "advertising support." You read about the same places over and over--and maybe not specific resorts, but islands or cities or countries--because they have the tourism infrastructure to pay for advertising. Whenever I wanted to publish an article about a topic or place with no advertising money behind it, I had to duke it out with sales and the publisher. Then there's "advertorial" which is an article length advertisement with some very fine print notifying the reader of this. It's the magazine eqivalent of an infomercial. This is true of all type of magazines and newspapers, not just travel.

Remember the film Minority Report? As Tom Cruise walked through the world of that film, biometric signals promted advertisements EVERYWHERE targeted specifically for him. I think of that occasionally, as I am assaulted by video ads in my supermarket checkout lines, in elevators, in the back of cabs.

Get used to it, folks. It only gets worse from here. To be honest, the stuff you're talking about in these shows annoys me a lot less than some of the above. And it's infinitely better than when they have little ads for other programs playing in the corner of the screen over what you're trying to watch.

* Steps off soap box.*

August 05 2008 at 3:43 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Let me start off by saying I absolutely HATE advertising, and I believe it should be exremely limited with as little First Amendment protection as possible ("commercial speech"). Most ads are inherently false or fraudulent - whether it's beer commercials with normal guys getting hot women because they are drinking a Bud to car commercials with a page of fine print you couldn't even pause on the DVR to read if you wanted to. They lie. Explicitly or implicitly - usually the latter.

THat being said, I've never been bothered by seeing real products in the background of a movie or TV show. There are real products in the background of real life. In fact, in shows/movies where every product is a non-existent one, it gives it an extra level of unreality (which might be intended). But I expect to see cans of Coca Cola in a fridge or at a restaurant, I expect to see vending machines that say either COKE or PEPSI on the front, I expect to see people driving fords, chevies, toyotas, mercedes, etc.

I've always wondered which products were actually paid to be there and which ones were simply there as an inadvertent prop. Nowadays, I'd imagine they film a movie, go back and watch it and identify all name brand items that can be seen, and then demand advertising payment from the product's manufacturer, only to airbrush it out if they don't get paid. I wonder if that's how it really does work these days?

But forcing the writers to integrate a product into the story really does bother me, and it really does cross a line. An artistic line, that is. I think the only two forms of legitimate advertising are word of mouth (which the manufacturer has no control over) and "reminders" like sticking a logo somewhere. Actually saying something about the product is always going to be "puffery" and always going to be false and misleading and should not be allowed.

As such, I'd rather see two characters in a TV show talking about a product in general terms without making any claims ("excellent coffee" is an opinion, not a statement of fact or the sort of claim I'm talking about) than see a TV commercial that does make false or fraudulent claims. Merely implying attractive members of the opposite sex will be more attracted to you by using a product is LYING. Axe deodorant spray is the worst violator of this, and should be taken off the shelves.

What I worry about, and hopefully it's not inevitable, is when such fraudulent claims are forcibly intermixed into the story of a TV show. When Shawn and Gus are competing over a girl, and Gus uses Axe deoderant body spray, and the girl immediately runs to Gus and spreads her legs for him, that's when I stop watching TV altogether. I have a lot of books I've been meaning to read.

August 05 2008 at 3:36 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Tina Fey, on 30 Rock, has set the standard for how these things should be handled. Though, obviously, her way is much easier on a comedy than a drama. They basically make it so blatantly obvious what they are doing that it is funny and becomes part of the joke. I'll never forget that Snapple is a 30 Rock sponsor because of how they did their product integration. And it made me laugh.

August 05 2008 at 3:04 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Did anyone see the My Boys where one of the gang gets all excited that he just bought a round of SoCo and Lime shots? Yeah... especially since a commercial had aired the previous break, that seemed a little too obvious.

August 05 2008 at 2:24 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

These "integrations" just don't feel natural. I am taken out of the story completely and then so pissed off that I can't focus the rest of the show. if this is the future of TV, I'll just read a book.

August 05 2008 at 2:06 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Watch the season premiere of "Burn Notice" again. A container. Favorable lighting. A car. A camera swooping elegantly up the front grill over the car company logo...

But then again this wasn't as sickening as the BMW Z3 promo in "Argmageddon". *yuck* Or the BS they pull on the "Fantastic Four" every time.

August 05 2008 at 1:14 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I suspect that as time goes on, these things will be more natural. Lie instead of 'Let's get some coffee' it will be 'Let's stop at (brand name coffee shop) for some coffee, Shawn. I don't want coffee, I want (other beverage served at brand name coffee shop).' They enter the shop, get their items, move the plot along, and the manager eventually orders them out for taking up space and not ordering (beverage or food item at shop) for the last 45 minutes.

August 05 2008 at 12:37 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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