"The Peacock net cared more about automotive product placement than compelling storytelling ...," TV Guide wrote, citing the integrations of a Ford Mustang in "Knight Rider" and two Chevy makes, a Traverse and Camaro, in fellow drama "My Own Worst Enemy."
TV Guide went on to apparently reference a May 12 press release that NBC distributed, which quoted executives speaking about its efforts with "Enemy" to break ground in matching shows with marketers' objectives.
"NBC was too busy crowing about its value as a GM marketing platform to bother with making sense of the show's laughably unwieldy premise," the magazine said. "No wonder the wheels came off before the first commercial break."
The series about a typical suburbanite and secret agent who share the same body was quickly shuffled off the air. "Rider" also appears to be on its way to the salvage yard.
Whether NBC had become overly enthralled with product placement may be less interesting to evaluate than whether the network or its competitors will be able to run that risk in the future--an issue The New York Times raised in November. With marketers spending less, will they curtail investments in branded entertainment?
That would certainly appear to be the case for GM. Times are tough enough that it had to cut short its endorsement deal with Tiger Woods. If it dropped Woods, is it likely to gamble heavily on drama pilots?
Now that Ford is back on "American Idol," what's left in the tank? Will it have enough to do much of what it did successfully late last month?
On Nov. 30, the marketer gave a struggling Michigan family a 2009 version of its Flex cross-utility vehicle on ABC's "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" (one of the top product placements of the week, according to measurement firm iTVX).
The gift came after the three young boys in the Nickless family lost their father, Tim, earlier this year after a long battle with an illness. Their home was badly in need of repairs--which the "Makeover" team helped with--and their minivan was on its last legs as Ford entered the picture.
But Ford didn't just provide a vehicle off the lot.
Instead, it had an airplane mural painted on top--a tribute to the boys' father, who loved planes. It's hard not to be moved by the appreciation of the mother, Arlene--both for the meaning of the mural and no longer having to worry about having transportation around.
From Ford's perspective, the "Makeover" investment would have to be considered a success. At a time when domestic car companies may have a lower approval rating than Congress, Ford showed a willingness to go the extra mile, no doubt building goodwill with viewers.
Under that construct, if product placement dollars dry up measurably, both car marketers and networks, which receive their largesse, could be hurt.
Yet, a day after the "Makeover" episode, Ford issued a press release that read in part:
"Arlene says the mural-clad Flex is a constant reminder of the man she and her children love and miss so much.
'It's not just a new car. It's a car that will always remind us of Tim and how much he cared about us,' she said.
From a functional perspective, the Ford Flex is an ideal vehicle for the Nickless family.
'Not only does it provide surprising space and comfort for up to seven people, with wide, roomy seats and best-in-class head room and leg room in all three rows, but it ranks at the top of its class with fuel economy ... And it comes standard with six airbags, a Safety Canopy System and Advance Trac with RSC (Roll Stability Control).'"
TV Guide might qualify that as a tactless link between the family and Ford.
So, perhaps with fewer dollars for product placement, automakers and the networks that love them stand a better chance of staying out of the "Jeers" column.
Burlington Coat Factory