Commentary

Brandtique: MasterCard

Disney's $5.3 billion purchase of ABC Family has long been criticized as a loser of a deal. How would Disney ever make money after paying so much for a network contractually bound to carry Pat Robertson's "700 Club" daily?

Five years on, the company may be attempting to recoup costs by giving marketers free reign to twist ABC Family's programming to fit their brands. Product placement, audio mentions, story lines, dialogue, background shots--the network seems willing to allow an advertiser to use it all--and all in one production.

Take ABC Family's original movie "Relative Chaos." It is an example of a program laden with marketing messages that anger Commercial Alert and other watchdog groups. But for an advertiser smitten with holistic communications and a network looking to grab as many ad dollars as possible, it's business as usual. From beginning to end, "Relative Chaos" is a star vehicle for two: Terry Bradshaw and MasterCard, which placed as the top-ranked product placements of the week, according to measurement firm iTVX. The film premiered Sept. 4.

The Fox football commentator acquits himself well. After the film "Failure to Launch" earlier this year, he appears to be building a side-career as an actor. His aw-shucks, down-home style is endearing, and he has a nice comedic touch. As for the credit-card giant, its brand makes so many appearances in the film--often gratuitously. Or as ABC Family might see it, the cost of endless integration opportunity? Priceless.

The oversweet, predictable film is about a family with three hyper-competitive siblings. Every year, the family--in which Bradshaw plays the father--gathers for a competition with random challenges, ranging from Monopoly to pie eating. This year, one of the siblings brings a diva new girlfriend home for the competition, then falls for the hometown girl. At one point during the Monopoly showdown, one player is losing money. His brother then jokes: "If you're short of cash, I gladly accept MasterCard." That's just not believable. Offering to accept plastic or credit cards is reasonably plausible, but no one would limit themselves to one brand.

Later, in a completely gratuitous scene, the grandmother is at her gift shop when a man wants to buy a duck decoy. He asks: "Do you take MasterCard?" Her response, "You bet!" The scene appears to have no relation to the story line, and written in just to give MasterCard one more plug.

And then comes the coup de grace (or disgrace), as the film ends. There's a fast-forward to the wedding between one of the sons--now cured of the diva girlfriend--and his new bride. While they dance together, she makes a reference to the family competition. "First place, 10 points...second-place, five." Then, he stops her. "Taking time to dance with my new bride--priceless!" While the admirable "Priceless" campaign has produced some heartwarming creative over the years--its best appearance as part of a spoof-spot for the Ralph Nader 2000 campaign--this is a low point. It's also a low point for branded entertainment.

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