Microsoft was all set to use that cool Fox animated show "Family Guy" to launch its new Windows 7 software, with a special called "Family Guy Presents: Seth & Alex's Almost Live Comedy Show." The show was supposed to air on Nov. 8 during the big November sweep period without commercial interruption and with -- no surprise, here -- branded messaging about Windows 7 scattered throughout.
But wait. Somebody got pissed. Apparently, Microsoft thought "Family Guy" was all about advertising-friendly family entertainment -- while the special supposedly included funny bits on deaf people, the Holocaust, feminine hygiene and incest.
According to a Microsoft spokesperson, it soon became clear the content was not a good fit with the Windows 7 brand. "We initially chose to participate in the Seth and Alex variety show based on the audience composition and creative humor of 'Family Guy,"" according to a reported statement.
Didn't the folks at Microsoft realize this series has made fun of just about everything -- some would say inappropriately -- from body parts, Jews, Christians and homosexuals, to the assassination of a U.S President, just to name a few subjects?
This was no simple product placement deal. It included licensing, merchandising, extensions on Fox Sports, FX, Fox Sports on MSN and Hulu, as well as a 12-week college tour that would allow students try out Windows 7.
As I've said before, product placement isn't about being "organic." For the most part, that's a myth. Product placement is actually about letting go.
TV producers' first charge is to create stuff people want to watch. And, with comedies, that includes having fun at the expense of consumer brands. Take a look at what "30 Rock" does with its product placement deals.
I can't imagine that Seth MacFarlane's powerful "Family Guy" TV show wouldn't take some shots at, say, a big computer company during an entire episode where a product needs to be worked into a good chunk of its content.
But brand managers can get too close to their product. Any negativity attached to their brand makes their hair stand up on on end. Better to just shout out a product's name on a TV show over and over again.
Give marketers what they want.