Commentary

Brandtique: Product Placement

Media agencies now argue that their handiwork is just as innovative as their creative counterparts. They suggest some marketing efforts should begin with the media plan, then enhanced by the artistic idea, rather than the other way around. Context before concepts?

Several recent product placements neatly advance that argument. All illustrate how much detail and diligence is involved in branded entertainment executions--increasingly, a weapon for media planners. (The three placements were among the top-ranked product placements of the week, according to measurement firm iTVX.)

In fact, product-placement negotiations have become far more sophisticated. It's no longer just about where to place a product in a scene. Often, the goal is to integrate a brand's ad jingle into a show, give it a mention in a subtitle and insert its promo copy into a script.

Take the appearance of the Almond Joy candy bar in the Oct. 9 episode of Showtime's "Weeds." The mere mention of the sweet treat prompts a person to hum the "Sometimes You Feel Like a Nut" tune. Given that plug, Hershey's, the marketer, was able to make its famed candy part of the episode and have the show conclude with its well-known jingle. It played for 40 seconds as the end credits rolled.

End credits on a blank background usually send viewers scurrying elsewhere, but the jingle, comparing the benefits of Almond Joy and Mounds, probably increased viewer retention. Could this be the first time a clip of just end credits is streamed on YouTube?

Plus, the "Weeds" placement had beneficial timing for Hershey's. It's surely not coincidental that the episode featured multiple shots of pocket-sized versions of Almond Joy ... on the eve of Halloween.

Product placement also broke new ground in the Oct. 9 episode of NBC's new hit drama "Heroes." Nissan inserted its Versa brand into the subtitles in a scene that involved two Japanese characters arriving in America and preparing for a road trip.

As they converse in Japanese, the subtitles express their excitement as they contemplate heading to Las Vegas and elsewhere. "Yes. In a Nissan Versa," a line reads on the screen's lower third.

No doubt the Versa brand team and Nissan have a favorable relationship with NBC. Banner ads for the Versa are all over NBC.com and this summer, the car was the exclusive sponsor of an online-only show on the site called "StarTomorrow."

Speaking of network-sponsor relationships and their role in advancing new twists in brand integration, an Oct. 11 placement in the new NBC comedy "30 Rock" takes the cake. In the show, about a late-night comedy program on NBC, the network's new vice president of development, Jack Donaghy (played by Alec Baldwin), plugs GE's Trivection Oven. NBC, of course, is part of GE. And in the show, GE leaders have decided to shift his role in the empire--from developing home appliances to running the Peacock's production pipeline.

In the episode, Donaghy asks two characters if they are "familiar with the GE Trivection Oven?" Then he launches into a sales pitch about how well it cooks. "The combination of three heating sources produces delicious results up to five times faster than a traditional thermal oven," he says. Well, just about.

That's actually promo copy from GE's Web site, but it demonstrates how product placement can blur the lines between entertainment and an in-your-face sales pitch.

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