The principal reason is automakers' deep pockets. The second: it's so easy. If product placement is supposed to fit seamlessly into a show, slotting a vehicle into the background or even the story line doesn't take much work, especially in dramas with high-speed chases.
Cadillac's insertion of its new Escalade pickup into a recent episode of the gripping and addictive FX drama "Rescue Me" is a recent example--and an effective one. Although the placement (one of the top-ranked product placements of the week, according to measurement firm iTVX) involves some high-speed action, what makes it work is "Rescue" lead Denis Leary.
Leary's character (New York firefighter Tommy Gavin) has to be the idol of every suit-wearing, cubicle-sitting, bureaucracy-beaten man in the 25-to-60 demo. Super-cool in his leather jacket and shades, his hard-drinking, hard-smoking, hard-driving, hard-loving character is a tortured soul, plagued by family and occupational trials.
But the way his character is presented, most men would endure his problems. More often than not, the issues are offset by beautiful women who can't keeping their hands off him and firehouse buddies who get along so famously that work is more like a fraternity than a job. And if he gets out of line, law enforcement is apparently willing to look the other way. He's a little like Vince in HBO's "Entourage."
In the Aug. 8 episode, the Cadillac intersects with enviable aspects of Gavin's life. There's a gorgeous woman with an incessant crush on him and a drag race on the streets of New York. Best of all: no traffic patrol in sight. Fast women, fast friends, fast cars.
In the episode, the swooning woman, Sheila, played by Callie Thorne, has an affair with Gavin. Now, she's waiting for him to sweep her permanently off her feet, a la Richard Gere's character in "An Officer and a Gentleman." Meantime, she presents Gavin with a spanking new Cadillac Escalade gratis. Does it get any better?
Sheila couches the gift, a blatant incentive to get Gavin to pull a Gere--he doesn't--as a way to help him through a stressful time and an expedient way to give her son his own car. She offers to trade the Escalade for Gavin's beat-up Ford pick-up, a more appropriate vehicle for her teenage son.
"This is mine?" Gavin asks.
Sheila responds fetchingly, "It's a Cadillac!"
Gavin initially resists, but he's clearly impressed with the shining ride. After she mentions it's "fully loaded" and has a V10, he "gives in" and climbs into the driver's seat. He turns the ignition and the engine hums mellifluously. In exchange for her $54,000 gift, Sheila asks for a quick breakfast together. Gavin can't be bothered.
Instead, he takes off on his maiden drive, and finds himself at a stoplight next to a driver eager for a drag race. The two blaze through the streets, forcing cars off the road and crisscrossing into the oncoming lane. No cops, no problem. And even if he is pulled over, cops tend to let firemen go. Here's the shocker; Gavin leaves the other guy in the dust.
When Gavin gets to the firehouse, he excitedly extols the virtues of the Escalade to his buddies. "It's incredible...it came with everything, it came with a V10...," he says.
Although the Escalade brand integration includes several product-placement staples--plugs for the vehicle's alluring features, shots of it in action as it handles beautifully on the streets--the principal benefit for Cadillac is its link with Gavin, who's hard to distinguish from Leary. Male viewers don't struggle with whether they want to be like him. That emulation may start with a new Escalade.