Wait A Second! Didn't Kevin On That Cable Show Drive A Ford? Now A Beemer!

It wasn’t that long ago that USA Network’s “White Collar” characters could be seen pitching viewers the Ford Focus -- both with in-show product placements and specific separate vignettes featuring the characters touting the car.

More than one TV critic might have mused that the art expert/con man Neal Caffrey (played by Matt Bomer), with his taste for the finer things, might have been moved to drive a more upscale automobile – say, an import.

Lo and behold, we have this season and...BMW! This auto brand is getting similar treatment to what Ford Focus received: heavy in-show visuals and content association as well as separate informational vignettes with the characters’ full backing.

In one scene this season, Caffrey complimented his longtime handler and partner Peter Burke (played by Tim DeKay) about one of the benefits of the latter’s job promotion -- a BMW -- as they were about to depart on another case.

But what about those viewers who were convinced a year ago to go out and consider a Ford Focus? Too bad, USA viewers. You’d better keep up with the times.

As with prime-time dramas on other cable networks, USA has employed heavy product placement with major car manufacturers.  The network’s “Royal Pains,” for example, is tied in with Toyota.

While viewers seem to be accustomed to much of this, they -- and yes, even TV marketing executives -- want to believe in consistency. Are those “American Idol” judges still drinking out of those Coca-Cola cups on-air?

Perhaps singing reality shows have different perspectives. But for fictional characters – who can foster plenty of marketer-valued viewer “engagement” -- switching big product affiliations can cause some confusion at best and some damage at worst.

On the other hand, repeated studies have shown that viewers still virtually shrug their shoulders when it comes to bad product placement.

But down the road, as media fractionalization continues, should content providers -- and network executives who sell their wares to advertisers -- pay closer attention? Maybe go a bit more frugal in their thinking?

Next year on “White Collar”? I’m thinking Prius.

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