Product Placement 2.0: Church And State Revisited

Let me start this week by saying I am a little biased. I thought at one time that "The West Wing" was the most intelligent show on television, and Aaron Sorkin seems to have picked up right where he left off with "Studio 60." All bias aside, I would still recommend that anybody in the video advertising or production world watch last week's "Studio 60." Interlaced with the show's plot was a debate between the president of NBS (the fictional NBC) and the producer of "Studio 60" (the fictional "Saturday Night Live") regarding product placement. The great part about the setting for the debate was the layers: the real show's writers having characters, who are writers and producers themselves, discussing the issues of product placement and possible solutions. All the while, there were all sorts of "the right kind" of product placements during the show.

But getting to the right kind of product placement isn't easy. I have heard many people compare the need for separation between content creation and monetization to the need for separation between church and state, so product placement is obviously not something to be taken lightly. But in a world where the 30 second spot's effectiveness continues to be threatened, it is certainly something that needs to be revisited.



The major issue with product placement is the risk of the placement compromising the integrity of the creative. This type of compromise is not only bad for the content, but can significantly decrease the desired effects of the product placement. Therefore, the relationship between products and content must be symbiotic. Brands can help writers tell stories just as much as stories can help advertisers promote brands. In order for this to happen, advertisers and their agencies need to collaborate, when invited, at the creative level--and the creative individuals behind today's content (which will be shared, ripped, downloaded and streamed) must work with monetization at least in the back of their mind. Admittedly, this is not an easy task, because it adds another complication--as if creating great drama wasn't hard enough.

The potential is for the creative agency to truly offer support to the storytelling process by producing images that will help content creators tell their stories. As it ends up in "Studio 60," the writers look to the advertisers to create billboards that will fit with their new set. Sure, these billboards will be advertisements, but they will be content as well--and the agencies that create them will have to think of them as such. On the show, there is a brief exchange regarding the criteria for choosing which advertisers' billboards will be used; and the NBS president comments that normally the network only asks for method of payment. This is indicative of what could be an entire new industry for agencies: developing creative within content. Imagine departments within agencies working not only with major studios and network creatives, but with the next generation of niche content production for online distribution. This division would be tasked with understanding the world that the content creator has built/is building and developing creative for placement within, and supporting, that world. Sounds like relevancy, doesn't it? Like search advertising was able to provide relevancy to textual advertising within informational content, the agencies would be tasked with providing relevancy to brand advertising within emotional content.

So, the problem? First, not all product placement opportunities are the same. What is the emotion the scene is looking to create in its audience (joy, sorrow, excitement)? How is the product being used (if at all)? Who is the audience for the content? The list of questions could go on and needs to be standardized in order to be optimized. Another major problem for making relevant product placements is finding and making the deals themselves, given the continued fragmentation of content. Even if the agencies could find all of the relevant spots, negotiating each placement could prove to be impossible. Imagine when hundreds of mini-studios pop up producing content for YouTube, AOLvideos, Revver etc. And how are the video-sharing sites cut in on the deal if the emphasis is on collaboration at the creative level, and not distribution? All good questions, and ones that will require a mix of technology and creativity to solve. Creating a marketplace ( that allows advertisers/agencies to push out opportunities and content creators to pull the right products placements is a good first step. Combining that with a technology that can provide an accepted standardization of product placement rating ( is a great next step. But the end result of moving one step closer to freeing digital content is a result worth organizing a lot more resources and industry around.

Incidentally, I am writing about last week's "Studio 60" today because I TiVod it, and even though I may have missed the commercials, for some reason I want a Heineken, a shot of Stolichnaya Vodka and an Apple computer. Can't figure out why....

P.S. NBC--For the "West Wing" product placement in this article, I felt I should mention that I do not yet own season 7 of "The West Wing" on DVD. Please contact MediaPost to get in touch!:)

Next story loading loading..