I don't have any problem with product placement, though I know a number of people who do. They howl their disapproval at the briefest glimpses of standard consumer goods in the settings of their favorite scripted television series as if something obscene has suddenly appeared on their screens.
I've never understood this knee-jerk negative response, especially when the placement is subtle. After all, we're living at a time when broadcast and basic cable viewers are routinely made to share their screens with endless animated graphics plugging upcoming shows on whatever network they are watching. As far as I'm concerned, that's a much more intrusive form of product placement than a bottle of Hershey's Chocolate Syrup showing up on a fictional character's dining room table. Which brings me to the special guest appearance this past Tuesday by that very product on ABC's "General Hospital."
As accepting as I am of product placement, I have to admit that this particular incident was way over the top. (I hadn't seen one like it since a scene in an October 2008 episode of "Ugly Betty" in which a character declared her love for Healthy Choice Fresh Mixers while giddily stacking them on her desk.) It was in fact so brazen that I'm not sure if it was a good thing or not, though it certainly got my attention, and for a few moments made me think that I might like a glass of cold chocolate milk. So I guess that makes it a potential win for Hershey's and "GH" alike. You tell me.
Here's how it played out:
In one of the first scenes in the episode -- before the familiar opening credits began to roll -- Nurse Elizabeth Webber (played by Rebecca Herbst, who may have a future in commercials if those hateful rumors about "GH" ending next summer prove to be true) entered her dining room carrying a tray on which sat two glasses of milk and a big brown bottle of Hershey's Chocolate Syrup. Her young son Cam was seated at the table. In order to fully appreciate what followed, you need to know that in a recent storyline one of Elizabeth's other young sons, Jake, died after he was hit by a car. (A boozy Luke Spencer -- of legendary Luke and Laura fame -- was behind the wheel.)
"Hey, buddy, guess what I have?" a smiling Liz said.
"What?" asked a sullen Cam.
"I thought we should celebrate your first day back to school with your favorite, Hershey's Chocolate Syrup," Liz replied, picking up the bottle with both hands and always keeping the label toward the camera. "Yeaaa!" she cheered as she squirted syrup into the two glasses. Cam didn't respond. "What, no 'yea'?" Liz asked. "What's the matter?"
The camera moved in close on Cam and the bottle of Hershey's Chocolate Syrup as the sad little boy answered his mother. "Jake loved it, too," he said. "I used to make it for both of us."
"I know, you miss your brother," Liz replied, oozing motherly love as she stirred the milk. "You know what? I miss him a lot, too. I have an idea. Do you know what a toast is?"
"The thing we did with the brownies?" Cam replied, referring to something that took place in an earlier episode.
"Yes, exactly," said Liz. "Most of the time people make toasts with special drinks. And what's more special than your favorite, Hershey's Chocolate Syrup, right?" Liz tenderly touched the bottle as she said this.
Liz and Cam then proceeded to clink their glasses of chocolate milk, toast "to Jake" and take sips, the Hershey's bottle prominently featured throughout.
At first I thought it was strange that Hershey's would want its product to be integral in a scene about a mother and son remembering a child killed by a drunk driver. But then I realized that they were celebrating the boy and reliving special moments that they had shared with him -- special moments that included the product. So maybe it wasn't so bad.
Not so surprisingly, the first commercial to run after that scene was for Hershey's Chocolate Syrup. Very surprisingly, the chocolate milk in the "GH" sequence looked much tastier than the milk in the ad, which I thought odd, given that soaps are produced at lightning speed and at the lowest cost possible, while all kinds of time and money are spent making products look perfect in commercials.
Later in the same episode, handsome Dr. Steve Webber (Scott Reeves) and sexy hotel manager Olivia Falconeri (Lisa LoCicero) enjoyed a long, soapy, steamy shower together in one of the title institution's locker rooms. It was one of the sexiest scenes I have ever seen in a daytime drama. Bottles of shampoo and body wash with vague labels were positioned all around them while they got it on. (At one point he washed her hair with the shampoo ... at least it looked that way through the steam.) I'm not sure if these were random props or poorly placed real products. But I've got to say, if ever there was a highly impactful placement opportunity for an actual brand of body wash, that was certainly it.