Forget Product Placement; TV Hosts Are Selling Live Again

If you believe product placements are time-consuming, labor-intensive, and possibly even deceptive, live commercials could be just the imperfect media ticket you are looking for.

Live commercials, presented by network late-night hosts, are in vogue again. Straight-ahead live commercial reads-to-camera have touted ice cream bars, fast-food sandwiches, men's pants, and toilet paper.

Sure, there's a script. But it's better if the host sometimes plays around with it. On radio, Howard Stern has been doing this -- live, for the most part -- for years. Now Jay Leno, Jimmy Kimmel, and Conan O'Brien are taking a whack at it.

Another benefit: If you hate commercial clutter, live messages -- smack in the middle of a program's content -- can yield big value.

Still, it isn't all that easy. Live commercials can be funky, especially considering a host's natural ad-libbing and a studio audience's immediate reaction (Oooh, toilet paper!) Marketers will worry that the exact pre-planned message won't be delivered.



But that's exactly the point.

The good news is, if your brand is a strong one, it can fend off much of this, as well as endear itself deeper in popular culture -- if not increase consumption.

And unlike with product placement, you don't have to wait months to figure out how you are going to work your brand-new SUV model into a story line, or your new hamburger into an elaborate reality show "challenge."

The downside? For the most part, such pitching only comes attached to late-night shows, which means many young-skewing viewers. Other programmers such as the Spike cable network are looking at live commercials for this fall.

These aren't endorsements. Leno may not be lounging in those Dockers after his weekend motorcycle rides. Kimmel may not be taking pictures of Sarah Silverman with a Nikon.

But we get the picture. Product placement can be slickly incorporated into a camera shot or story line. But live commercials come tumbling right at you -- like a potential consumer product accident.

How can you not watch?

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