Product Placement Critique: Capital One's In-Your-Face 'Brand Invasion'

by , Jan 23, 2006, 8:01 AM
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Capital One's television ads are relentless, sort of like credit card bills. David Spade's "Always No!" character and barbarians marauding against high interest rates are as ubiquitous as "Friends" repeats.

To be sure, it takes some effort to catch up with the Visas and MasterCards, but the non-stop barrage is leading viewers to develop "low interest rates" and become anesthetized.

With a new product integration deal on NBC's "Fear Factor," Capital One once again gets a low credit rating for an overly aggressive, exceedingly in-your-face approach. Rather than mixing one of its cards into the flow of the show, Capital One has persuaded NBC to let it insert what feels like a commercial--and a poor one at that--right into the program. Who wants to watch more than 16 minutes of commercials an hour? Maybe Charles Barkley for Nike (an advertiser that appreciates subtlety), but more Capital One?

The commercial--er, segment--is branded "Capital One Fear Factor Home Invasion." The reality show leaves behind the Hollywood stage and hard-body contestants for the streets of America and workaday folk. Host Joe Rogan takes gross-out reality TV stunts to your next-door neighbor. The "Fear Factor" crew shocks a family by showing up at their front door and offering a Capital One card worth $5,000 if they successfully complete a stunt.

Set aside any potential marketing pitfalls with paying people to swallow revolting organisms--which was the case in the Jan. 10 episode where the Easton family of Queens, N.Y. wasn't too sure it was up for downing banana slugs until Mom said, "You know what, we need the money!"--the segment/commercial is poorly executed and unimaginative.

As Rogan trudges up to the house along with cameramen in tow, it feels like the Publishers Clearing House Prize Patrol is on the way. And when Rogan arrives to a beaming and screaming family, it feels even more like he's Ed McMahon there to deliver a giant cardboard check. You don't have to be Lee Garfinkel to know Publishers Clearing House doesn't exactly produce Cannes Lion stuff.

Rogan, of course, arrives bearing a Capital One card. Product placement works best when it's understated, but Capital One appears eager to take the opposite approach. Rogan continually displays the card as if he's gotten ahold of the Hope Diamond and wants to show off. He seemingly challenges himself to insert it in the camera shot as much as possible. In fact, after the Eastons won the $5,000 and the camera zeroed in on their celebration, Rogan made sure to poke his arm holding the card into the shot.

Rogan's antics are but one example of Capital One's overexposure and resulting diminishing returns. The card gets a full-screen close-up, and receives multiple mentions in the dialogue. And for 30 seconds, a Capital One billboard is glued to the bottom left of the screen. That's in the area where channel surfers are trained to look for a network logo. Is a Capital One moniker going to make someone stop and watch?

With product placement, less can be more. In this case, "Fear Factor Home Invasion" feels too much like brand invasion.

Click to view and evaluate this and other product placements of the past week courtesy of branded entertainment researcher iTVX..

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