Commentary

Our Lives Are Perfect Fits For (Tasteful) Brand Integration

A story in the Los Angeles Times details how aggressively Hulu is working the product integration side business, focusing on an episode of its version of “The Mindy Project” in which Mindy goes off to a conference at her alma mater driving a sporty Lexus RX crossover.

As the Times notes, that’s a good placement because Kaling’s character, Dr. Mindy Lahiri, is “brand-obsessed.”

Product placement, or its near look-alike, product integration, has been around for a long time but has gotten  more sexy as it’s become a lot more possible for viewers to skip messages.

Once avoiding commercials was your own business; with the Internet, it became fashionable to ask if you wanted to see the ad you’re being served. Not at all surprisingly, most people do not,  a fact that, nearly weekly, some new piece of research confirms. All that confirmation has a way of turning research into dogma, backed up by measuring and monitoring.

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So now ads get placed into dramas or comedies, seamlessly, they like to say. Most time it’s not quite that transparent. So what? If you see an obvious integration, you’re likely to say to yourself, “oh, I see Blavit’s Cola paid to be mentioned/seen/consumed” and while that ruins the sleight-of-hand thing, it is still a way for Blavit’s Cola to advertise itself. I don't think Blavit's cares much.

The Times story centers on Hulu because it is the sort-of odd duck in the OTT universe that is still commercial-driven. So its efforts at product integration are,  I guess, intended to be more artful.  And yet, you have to wonder.  If not for Lexus, would Dr. Lahiri be taking a road trip to her alma mater? Or if she would, would the original vision of that episode have included some portion of the show that takes place in the car?

It’s more likely the Lexus came first and the idea for the episode followed.  

Still, charming, I’m sure.

Producers and writers say they’re ever vigilant to make sure product integration doesn’t intrude on their art. I almost believe it. But Mindy’s devotion to brands  could be so handy for any number of potential sponsors. I’m sure the sales staff wishes every series should have somebody like that to be the commercial catcher.

The fact is, it’s not that awful unless viewers begin to think it is, and really the evidence seems to be that just the opposite is true. The newest breed of media personalities are “influencers,” paid off  by brands even before they can vote and admired by millions, in large part, because they’ve become powerful “brand ambassadors.”  To them, “The Mindy Project” is just an extension of Red Bull channels and stadiums named after everything from banks to mortgage companies to Websites that sell surplus merchandise. And they’re right. Trying to disguise product integration, in short, has become a waste of time and energy.  That’s show business.

pj@mediapost.com

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