Brand entertainment can be like walking in a haunted house-- at least to one late night talk show host. It can turn your stomach.
Conan O’Brien says talking up a product on his TBS late night talk show without his usual comedic spin can be “creepy.” Doritos, for example, might not work when creatives are too specific with exactly what they want him to say.
In an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper at the Cannes Lions festival, he said: “If sometime during the integration I have to pick up some Doritos and say 'They sure are crunchy, and delicious! Mmmmm. Very satisfying!' --and not acknowledge it -- it's creepy. It doesn't feel right, and we have to say no."
And you might be wondering if this happens to O’Brien, what do Leno, Letterman, Kimmel, and others are thinking when this stuff comes up?
We know the answer. Everyone needs to find his own humor with it -- assuredly that comes from making fun of it. Maybe too many Doritos made him heave once. Surely we want to hear some of that stuff. Maybe he was test-driving a new Dodge car model -- only to stall out on the highway.
"Sometimes we'll have a great idea,” says O’Brien. “The company will really be behind it. And then there's that phone call three weeks before, and the person says, 'At some point Conan needs to bow down before the product with great sincerity and say THIS very canned line right to camera.'”
Forced declarations would go against O’Brien’s on-air character. Viewers would get confused. Then again, to be fair, O’Brien says a number of other ad executives get what he needs.
Still, it is amazing that nearly a decade and a half after the right of branded entertainment, we are still talking about product placement efforts that are “inorganic” versus the “organic” ones. Many executions still feel forced -- especially on some cable network dramas.
Not too sure we have missed any of these efforts. Did I miss one of the WWE Entertainment characters touting a special brand of yoga mats? Or one of the comedic characters on USA’s “Psych” talking up cologne -- in a straightforward way? Maybe it was just my imagination.
Especially for comedic personalities, there still needs to be much more flexibility -- like when during a “30 Rock” episode where, during a meeting with NBC executives, you could find fictional TV producer Liz Lemon (Tina Fey), with her obvious comedic touch, discussing the downside of product placement, as well as the refreshing qualities of a particular beverage -- as well as the financial benefits for the network. This exchange happened with her boss Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin) and producer Pete Hornberger (Scott Adsit):
Jack: Look, I know how this sounds.
Liz: No, come on, Jack. We’re not doing that. We’re not compromising the integrity of the show to sell—
Pete: Wow. This is Diet Snapple?
Liz: I know, it tastes just like regular Snapple, doesn’t it?
All this probably lends more credibility to the product placement/branded entertainment. The positive: One still gets a product’s name out there in this fractionalizing, busy media world. High awareness is sometimes good enough.