Brandtique Of The Week: Porsche

by , Mar 20, 2006, 8:32 AM
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It's often said that product placement deals are complex and time-consuming--a far different undertaking than purchasing a spot or dot. And two recent placement deals by luxury automaker Porsche give credence to that.

A week ago, Porsche weaved two of its cars--a sports model and an SUV--into two shows, NBC's comedy "Scrubs" and the premiere of the new season of HBO's hit drama "The Sopranos."

Clearly, Porsche wasn't content just to showcase its vehicles as part of each show's wallpaper. It didn't want the cars simply present behind characters joking in a parking lot or leaving a restaurant after a romantic dinner. In an example of the new wave of product placement--true brand integration--Porsche sought to make its cars an instrumental part of scenes in each show and, further, insert them into the dialogue.

Obviously, that's what can make a product placement deal a tad more layered than purchasing a :30. Producers would need to be involved, and directors to ensure execution--perhaps even standards and practices types who consider themselves guardians of what indeed is for sale.

In both the "Scrubs" and "Sopranos" examples (evaluated and ranked via research firm iTVX as two of the five most effective product placements last week), Porsche found a way to navigate the various network sign-offs. No doubt, the carmaker began negotiations months ago, hoping the placements would be all set by early March to coincide with the unveiling of three new models, two 911 sports cars and a version of its Cayenne SUV.

Also taking time, Porsche took pains to ensure that the integrations fit the tone of each show and looked for clever ways to sprinkle its brands into the dialogue, which surely took careful script and plot reviews.

In the "Scrubs" example, jokester resident J.D. gets a ride in surly Dr. Cox's 911. Obviously, there's no room in a comedy for earnest talk about rpm's, torque, or 0-60 time, especially when a cynic like J.D. (played by Zach Braff) is involved. So, Porsche opted to tap into J.D.'s sarcasm as a way to give itself sort of a backhanded compliment. As J.D. gets comfortable in the 911, he takes a whiff, slides his hand across the dash, and muses to himself: "I was in the Porsche. I had never made it into the Porsche. It smelled like German heaven."

Porsche takes further pains to make its placement fits the show's tenor as klutzy J.D.--after being warned not to--opens a can of root beer which explodes all over the fine leather seats. As a result, J.D. is no longer allowed to ride up front. There's a shot of J.D. in the folding rear seats not looking particularly comfortable. Still, Porsche conveys the message that its sports cars can seat more than just two--perhaps a little-known fact to a bonus-rich Wall Streeter, who might be looking for a way to persuade a spouse that the 911 is indeed a family car. Apparently, that's a selling point for Porsche; the company says that in a 911 "a family can enjoy supercar-quality levels of performance...large folding rear seats in the new 911 are surprisingly comfortable for a car of its capability."

On "The Sopranos," Porsche plugs its new Cayenne SUV. The sticker price is $111,600, but Tony Soprano is doing well despite the Feds interfering here and there. Things are also better on the personal front since we last checked in: He and wife Carmela appear to have patched things up. So, after a romantic Japanese dinner, Tony surprises Carmela with a new family car that tops out at about 168 mph.

Carmela is ecstatic. "Oh my God," she says. "Is this the new Porsche?" Then, as she gets in the driver's seat, continues the euphoria: "I love it. It's gorgeous!" Tony, meanwhile, plays the role of the proud male, informing her that it's a turbo with the 4.5-liter V8.

Once again, Porsche shows painstaking attention to detail with the product placement. The car certainly fits the plot and characters. Tony has a long history of giving jaw-droppingly lavish gifts as a way to smooth things over--and Carmela, exceedingly materialistic, is generally willing to forgive and forget when she's the recipient. Like most men, Tony also enjoys feigning technical knowledge, so it's not much of a stretch for him to recite a car's features such as the 4.5/V8.

As a marketing ploy, it probably had some impact. Tony, in some ways, engenders admiration among men, and who wouldn't want to follow him in giving a spouse a new Porsche? Porsche also advances the idea that its cars aren't just for playboys, but perhaps soccer moms as well

Although the viewing public probably didn't notice, there are some ways in which Porsche betrays product placement's accepted goal of not stretching credulity. For one, after barely glancing at the SUV, Carmela asks: "Is this the new Porsche?" Unless she's an avid reader of Road & Track, this is implausible, since who knew Porsche made anything but roadsters? Also, she pronounces the brand "Por-sha," surely the proper way in Stuttgart, but stateside, most people tend to go with some variation of "Poursh" (rhyming with the Russian beet soup.

Nonetheless, the fact that Porsche got Carmela Soprano of North Jersey to pronounce its brand as if she were a presenter at Auto Mobil International in Leipzig is an example of how meticulous the carmaker was with its product placements on "Scrubs" and "The Sopranos." It might be referred to as German-engineered brand integration.

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