On the positive side of the dichotomy: With product placement becoming an increasing staple in prime time, the very purpose of the tactic--generating viewer notice, or if lucky, interest--loses some of its effectiveness. It's the Clutter Principle 101.
But what seems to work well is when a far-back-burner brand makes an appearance. A Jiffy Pop, a Capri Sun, an Absorbine Jr.--something that seems to have a place in the history books, not the Stop & Shop.
Something like ... a Klondike bar.
For many, the vanilla ice cream wrapped in a thin chocolate crust only catches their attention when they casually peer into the freezer at a 7-Eleven or Exxon Mart. There, the silver packages with the polar bear logo chill next to the Chipwiches and Drumsticks.
Klondike, however, has something those and other single-pack freezer dwellers don't: an unforgettable, catchy, infectious jingle. The melodious "What would you do for a Klondike bar?"--which hit the air some time around 1982--is easily recognized and brings an appreciative smile to the faces of Gen Xers and older folks.
So, when the treat and the jingle showed up in the May 15 episode of "Earl," the sleeping brand got an awakening (one of the top product placements of the week, according to measurement firm iTVX). The brand's marketer, Unilever, succeeded where the mass of automakers that have over-flooded reality series with their SUVs have failed. Unilever's brand stood out and caught the attention of the viewer.
The Nostalgia Theory of Product Placement was at work. A formerly well-known brand looking for some fanfare got it by making an appearance at an unexpected time.
Viewers intrigued by the integration--who perhaps were persuaded to look for the 24-pack at the grocer, rather than the single-serve once a summer in the mini-mart--may have received some positive reinforcement if they continued watching NBC on the night the "Earl" episode aired. (Of course, that would mean linear, live viewing--and who does that anymore?) But Klondike was the subject of a live TV spot on the "Tonight Show" several hours later.
(Both integrations were used by Unilever to kick off a "What would you do for a Klondike bar?" contest aimed at boosting awareness of the treats heading into the summer months. Consumers are prompted to submit their homemade videos based around the jingle's theme--how far would they go, what crazy thing would they do for a Klondike--with a $100,000 prize at stake.)
Still, while the appearance on "Earl's" season finale could be tabbed a marketing hit, it may have lacked appreciation from naysayers who fear prime time is becoming overly fertile ground for in-show spinning. Reason being, it appears the scenes were inserted in "Earl" simply as a vehicle to plug Klondike.
Recapping the episode, the blog TV Fodder meticulously went through the action. But at one point, its recapitulation reached a virtual interlude--with the following: "The Klondike bar people paid a pretty chocolate-covered penny here for this next bit ... and let's just move along people."
The bit involved Randy (Earl's brother played Ethan Suplee) coveting a Klondike as Earl's wife Billie (Alyssa Milano) joyfully consumes one.
Billie has a bucketful nearby--which the camera doesn't miss. And Randy asks for one.
"That depends," Billie says--then on cue launches into "What would you do for a Klondike bar?"
Randy breaks out in a chicken dance.
Billie's unimpressed. She makes Randy dress as a Girl Scout and try to peddle cookies, then hold up a sign on the roadside asking people to throw trash at him.
Indeed, he gets nailed and topples over. Now, Billie's impressed. She tosses him a Klondike and says, "Enjoy."
The camera lingers for nearly 10 seconds as he excitedly unwraps it and takes a bite.
Meanwhile, the 1997 hit "Sell Out" plays.
My Name Is Earl
One Tree Hill
Beauty and the Geek
Saturday Night Live
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