Commentary

Brandtique: Red Lobster

NBC Universal chief Jeff Zucker and an obliging media would have it that Madison Ave. is ecstatic over Ben Silverman's appointment to head NBC, due to product placement opportunities he'll allow in the network's shows.

Silverman is given credit for being advertiser-friendly in his previous producing role, sliding products into both scripted and unscripted shows. However, as an NBC executive, it's unclear how far he'll navigate the fine line between creative and advertiser interests.

Over at Fox, one thing seems more certain: The network is becoming increasingly interested in branded entertainment within its Sunday-night animated block. A "Family Guy" episode recently touted ConAgra's Jiffy Pop, and recently "American Dad" featured an interesting way of plugging Red Lobster.

Both brands would appear to have a particular appeal among young men, right in line with the animated block's target. "American Dad" is a top-15 hit in the 18-to-34 demo.

That's the benefit from a marketing standpoint. Products, of course, look slightly different when shown in an animated show versus traditional film. But while that may be a negative, the chance to reach young men in a creative way probably more than makes up for it.

Or a marketer could slide a product into a show without showing it simply by a creative use of dialogue. Witness the May 13 "American Dad" episode's plug for Red Lobster (one of the top product placements of the week, according to measurement firm iTVX.)

In the episode of the rather twisted show, an 18-year-old female "Hayley" tries to win the affections of space alien "Roger" by offering to take him to Red Lobster. Red Lobster clearly took pains to deliver a twofold message through the show's dialogue. First, that it has some new menu items (Maui Luau seafood and lobster bisque, among them)--and second, a publication called "Fresh Catch" that keeps people abreast of what's new at the family seafood chain. The angle: come in and eat and check out the literature, too.

As "Hayley" tries to entice her crush "Roger" to go out to the restaurant, she says, "Did you know they have a new dipping sauce?"

"They do?" he responds. "There wasn't anything about it in the 'Fresh Catch.'"

The space alien then turns to "Klaus" the goldfish as if to provide an explanation: "That's their e-bulletin."

"Klaus" is insulted. "I know that," he says. "I was the one who told you about it."

"Klaus" then uses some hip language. "Fronting like you're on the cutting edge of Red Lobster news," he says in a huff.

It may not be on the cutting edge of product placement, but it's certainly a creative way to deliver a message that something's going on at Red Lobster while reaching an important target audience.

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