Once And For All, Just Tell Me It's Product Placement

A little fun factor never hurt product placement.  But too serious and too organic? That can be product bland-ment.

Despite what branded entertainment executives will tell you, 80% of product placements never really seem natural. Why? Because they don't get the joke -- or want to give one.

It makes sense if someone is having a soft drink not to show an obviously nondescript can with "Cola" emblazoned across it. Put a Pepsi or Coke in there, please. But even then, we notice, and it feels -- somewhere down deep - like this fictional TV show is toying with us.

But I kind of like the way "30 Rock" handles stuff. In one episode last year, Jack Donaghy, the notorious vice president of East Coast television & microwave oven programming for NBC, wants "The Girlie Show'"s producers to consider product placement.

After earnest rebellion by the production staff, at the end of the meeting, the punch line came: Cast members offer each other bottles of Snapple, noting how its taste was so refreshing, in an all-such-a-perfect-commercial way.  We laugh because we know what's going on.

This is way better than "Heroes" showing us a sly glimpse of the new Nissan Rogue model; or a casual mention when someone orders a Jack Daniels at a beatnik club in "Mad Men."

Last week's premiere season episode of "30 Rock" with guest star and former NBC Thursday night dynamo Jerry Seinfeld continued the show's more-than-obvious efforts. First off - Seinfeld's appearance on the show was to give "30 Rock" some higher ratings! (which it did).

Now ,the storyline: Realizing that NBC needs a rating boost, Donaghy decides to insert digital images of Seinfeld into a variety of NBC shows -- without the comedian's approval or knowledge.

Seinfeld is furious but wants Donaghy to come up with another plan. In the end, Seinfeld agrees to a deal where NBC will denote $1.5 million to Doctors Without Borders.  In addition "Today Show"'s Al Roker has to promote Seinfeld's "Bee Movie" while wearing a bee costume. Donaghy also gets the name of the secret European nation where the very rich vacation, which Seinfeld has just visited.

"The Bee Movie" happens to be a real movie, and an actual ad for it ran during a commercial break of this  episode. At one point in the heated argument with Baldwin, Seinfeld looks at the camera and says, "Opening November 5!"

Organic? This is product placement with preservatives!  Blatant, obvious, and over the top, and maybe ever-lasting.  It does just the opposite of whatever product integration executive might say to not make it obvious.  

The show probably wasn't the funniest of "30 Rock" episodes. But that wouldn't be the point in my notes to new TV producers considering product placement. It would be this: Don't talk down to your viewers. Just get on with it



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