Identifying Product Placement, So You Know The Writer Is Not Involved

by , Sep 21, 2007, 2:15 PM
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"Here it is -- your bottle of Aquafina," a lawyer on any TV crime drama might say to his client.  Then with a quick aside to the camera: "Bought to you as a paid product placement by the fine people from Aquafina."

For the slow and uninitiated, this would make sure product placement would be identified, once and for all, saying, in effect: "Oh. This is advertising. This is TV business."

Patric Verrone, who was just reelected as president of the Writers Guild of America West, would like this kind of identification very much. No, he doesn't want TV shows to stop doing product placement -- which continues to proliferate on TV, according to some recent Nielsen data. He just wants viewers to know TV writers had nothing to do with it in the creative process.

In that regard, he would like a crawl at the bottom of the screen -- at the time the placement is occurring -- or some equivalent to tell viewers, for example, that the appearance of those Doritos Dr. Gregory House is munching on in "House" didn't come from the writer of that episode. That in fact, the reason the Doritos are there is some hard-charging TV executive looking to make his advertising sales division happy so they could pry another $1 million or so out of Frito-Lay's upfront or scatter buy.

But why stop here? Why not disclose on the air why certain actors are teamed with certain writers and producers -- that they may be a package deal from William Morris, CAA, or Endeavor? Why not disclose why some of the same advertisers are in a specific show at a specific time? Perhaps that high-clout media agency that represents them had something to do with it.

Verrone says the aim is also not to deceive viewers that show producers or the TV actors necessarily endorse these products.  In other words, if you see coverage of Hugh Laurie at those Emmy parties noshing on, say, Pringles, you could be confused.

TV has always been an uneasy mix of art and commerce. Perhaps writers really just want a piece of that commerce. Then they could add to their resumes that, say, in addition to writing one-hour drama episodes, they also can do commercial work as well.

Maybe we should add that to the bottom of the crawl, as well.

All of which is why the 30-second commercial still works so well -- because it hits viewers over the head, telling them: Watch and learn, skip to another channel  -- or ahead if you have a DVR. Or blow the whole thing off and take a piss.

We can all make it easier on TV executives: spread the word; do some word-of-mouth marketing. Tell people product placement will hit you when you least know it.

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