Product Displacements Explained, Part 2: Functions of Parody & Satire
In “Product Displacements as Catalysts to Engagement,” I assert that fictionalized displacements can generate better recall and purchase intent than even the most thoroughly planned brand integration strategies. I like to think of product placements as a form of hybrid advertising that situates itself within narrative content, but does not directly identify its paid-for sponsorship of a program. A key factor of product placement is integration, which is usually intended to occur as seamlessly as possible. The majority of casual television viewers are not conditioned to watch out for brand integrations and as the number of placements increase, these carefully placed products just contribute to the clutter of an already ad-saturated environment. Of course, there are brands capable of successfully integrating products into shows in clever, stylistic ways that increase recollection and engagement. However, most brand integrations risk alienating viewers, especially as audiences become defensive against constantly being marketed to.
What makes fictionalized product placements so conducive to positive and memorable engagement is perhaps their utilization of tongue-in-cheek humor of parody and satire. The real brands portrayed in displacements, specifically fictionalized ones, are usually iconic and commonly known. Fictionalized displacements are created using similar phrasing, slogans and visual identifiers as their real world counterparts. While fictionalized displacements typically mimic the most identifiable characteristics of real brands, there is always something “off” about them. Even if a product displacement is not a parody and only functions as a fictionalized stand-in, viewers are able to sense and even identify “off” content. Viewers are required to actively analyze and decode meanings of a product displacement. In a way, viewers interact with fictionalized product displacements more so than standard brand integrations because they are required to connect their cultural knowledge to media messages presented.
Parody and its cultural references are usually common knowledge. As Jonathan Gray states, “Parody’s only prerequisite is a limited degree of textual and genre awareness,” however, recognizing the parodical nature of product displacements makes viewers feel media savvy. Once they notice a fictionalized displacement and can identify the actual brand it’s meant to portray, audiences are inclined to believe they are in on a joke and not susceptible to the lure of marketers (Gray 235). Most fictionalized displacements are mildly amusing and give the impression of critiquing the portrayed brand. An episode of The Simpsons titled “Mypods and Broomsticks,” which featured a company called Mapple, (an Apple stand-in) mocked the computer giant’s products, advertising, corporate culture and CEO. After losing an angry mob of Mapple employees seeking revenge, Bart Simpson, who made fun of the company’s pricing and sheep-like followers/customers, states he was chased for shining, “…a harsh light on modern society.”
Although Apple would not agree to be portrayed so negatively, Apple, as well as other companies, stand to benefit from satirical mocking. Fictionalized product displacements represent distorted mirrors of national life and cultural identity. I have encountered the majority of these displacements in sitcoms, which presents a great opportunity for adventurous brands to experiment with their identity and be parodied. In sum, “jokes make us laugh, many viewers are likely to seek out parody, and few of [them] are likely to feel imposed upon in the way [they] might react to more overtly didactic messages” (Gray 234). While recognizing and identifying a fictionalized product displacement requires prior knowledge of cultural meanings, advertisers can use parody and satire to “re-encode” those meanings (Gray 231).
Gray, Jonathan. “Television Teaching: Parody, The Simpsons, and Media Literacy
Education.” Critical Studies in Media Communication. Vol. 22, No. 3, August
2005, pp. 223/238