Commentary

This Article Comes To You Courtesy Of…

  • by May 23, 2002
If you come to think about it, everything in life is endorsed or sponsored in some way, shape or form. Every week we get to spend 23 minutes of quality time with our six favorite friends, comforted in knowing that they won’t go hungry with $1 million per episode, and thankful to the advertisers who helped make this a reality.

In fact, advertisers these days seem to be so close to their sponsored content that they’ve seen the need to place their products either on the very sets of the program, or using digital mastery, into demarcated blue positions after-the-fact.

My first recall of product placement was Ian Fleming’s James Bond series: from the Rolex or Aston Martin of the Roger Moore generation to the BMW’s of the Brosnan era. I even remember looking forward to identifying the recognized brands in each new adventure. Today, this still remains one of the best examples of product placement done right.

Then there’s also product placement done wrong, or overdone. A couple of months ago, I was watching the West Wing and, after at least 5 blatant product mentions, it became pretty obvious what was happening:

“...a trip to Banana Republic would have killed you,” President to Charlie
“…Do a Google search,” Josh to Donna
“...I picked it up on eBay,” Charlie to the President
“...the Tostitos Vice-President” Sam to Toby
“...Mr. Moto,” President to Leo regarding a cell-phone

Ever since I found out WWF wasn’t real, it’s been a sobering experience waking up to what’s real and what is paid for. So in this new Survivor era of deluxe product placement/sponsorship, was I witnessing the text link equivalent on the West Wing?

Survivor is a classic example of how quickly we tend to turn a fresh idea into an overdone one. The first few Budweiser and Mountain Dew examples were great. The Snickers 30-second montage of naked Richard Hatch with the line, “forgetting to put on your pants: another unfortunate side-effect of hunger” was brilliant. However, the blatant product shots of the candy bar being passed around, followed by overdone “mmmmmmmm’s” from the contestants was a little obvious.

Product placement has even managed to rear its head in daytime programming talk shows. There was the rather obvious love-affair with Wendy’s fresh salads and Rosie O’ Donnell. This was actually part of an integrated AOL-Time Warner deal, which sought to unite AOLTW’s plethora of media touchpoints in a meaningful way.

We’re used to premier events such as the Oscars, or sports broadcasts being sponsored “in-part,” but now we’re witnessing it weaving its way into content as well. Exactly why did American Express need to sponsor the 2-hour LA Law reunion movie? Perhaps this has been compounded by the PVR challenge, which seems to be pushing us rather quickly to the notion of full wraparound sponsorships, which is ironically exactly how it used to be. Think Geritol 21 or “Soap” Operas.

So Crest Friends or 10-10-220 Cops (geddit?) can’t be too far away, can it?

In case you’re feeling like it’s all too much, don’t fret. There are plenty of great examples of brand association out there. Some are mentioned above, especially when executed with first-mover advantage.

The one that sticks into my mind is reverse product placement, so to speak. The recent Mitsubishi ad features a memorable song playing whilst a female passenger does some kind of interpretive robotic-dance sequence. In case you’re wondering, it’s called Days Gone By, by Dirty Vegas. And it’s playing all over the radio right now. And it’s being referred to as the Mitsubishi song. Do a search on Limewire under “Mitsubishi” and it comes up in the listing. And I just mentioned Mitsubishi 4 times (actually 5 now), so it continues to render its viral chorus.

Give Moby credit for figuring out how to get noticed on a shoestring budget (so much so that Eminem feels the need to reference him these days.) Also give the Mitsubishi marketers kudos.

Product placement and brand association need to be strategic at all times. It works better in an uncluttered environment, particularly if executed in an original and creative way. On one hand, it’s the continued manifestation of the emerging cynical consumer, turned off by advertising amidst a sea of noise. On the other hand, it’s a new proving ground and basis for experimentation and innovation.

So how will it all end? Well, you’ll just have to watch Clorox CSI (geddit?) to find out!

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