Product Placement Overkill Leaves Viewers Too Taxed and Sugared

Tax season is upon us, and that means I can see a few Jeopardy-inspired TV commercials running next month.

"You may not know me," quiz-whiz Ken Jennings might say. "I was the all-time winner on 'Jeopardy.' But even my brain can sometimes get taxed. Don't do what I did - by taking a chance on a wrong answer. Go to H&R Block for the right answers to your tax needs."

Of course, Jennings lost his all-time status blowing a 'What is H&R Block?' question. The answer: Most of this firm's 70,000 seasonal white-collar employees work only four months a year.

Jennings answered: "What is FedEx?" a company that will also no doubt tap Jennings for a commercial telling consumers that its hard-working employees also work the other eight months of the year.

Of course, TV syndicate King World Productions could have been greedier. (It already stretched Jennings' run through the November sweep period.) King World's ad sales unit, King World Media Sales, could have sold spots to each H&R Block and FedEx to run right after Jennings blew his answer.



But that would have been branded-entertainment overkill -- an area where "The Apprentice" went into last week.

Last week's episode featured a whole episode on the two competing teams trying to devise a new marketing plan - including a new plastic bottle - for Pepsi-Cola's new low-carb Pepsi Edge. If that wasn't enough, two Pepsi Edge spots ran during the show, which confused many viewers because neither of the two Apprentice prototypes looked anything liked the actual Pepsi Edge can.

Then not to be outdone, a sly Pepsi programming vignette ran at the end of the show.

It opened with the fired contestant Andy, the young MBA Harvard grad, moaning in a cab ride about his demise - the usual ending for the "Apprentice" - only to realize a former loser who is talking about Pepsi is driving him.

Shouldn't the press be a little more suspect about these marketing moves? Is Pepsi's brand entertainment here really organic?

This is a two-part answer: Yes, the in-show content was indeed organic. But extra marketing tasks outside the 'real' business laid it on a bit thick.

We already got the message. No doubt other real business concerns were at work. It's no secret that NBC, as well as other networks, don't mind product-integration in a show as long as advertisers also spend money for regular commercial time.

But for viewers this can only bring on brand-entertainment lethargy - too taxed and too sugared.

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