The salaciously titled Stephen Adly Guirgis play, The Motherfucker With the Hat begins previews in March and certainly presented a marketing challenge. The play centers on a newly sober man and his girlfriend , a continual addict. Suffice it to say, such a dark-themed play isn’t looking to appeal to Wicked or Mary Poppins fans but all marketing materials need to be censored. Its Twitter and Facebook pages utilize the user names TheMFWithTheHat. The main promotional artwork featured on its webpage and on the Schoenfeld Theatre marquee substitutes asterisks for the letters U and C (Motherf**ker).
The above image, a New York Times banner ad, completely eliminates the expletive Motherfucker but includes a line instructing viewers to click for the full title. Given my interest in product displacement and unbranding, I find the act of hiding a significant portion of a play’s title in an ad absolutely fascinating.
On another note, I was invited to attend a preview performance of the show. =)
Morgan Spurlock will premiere his latest meta-documentary The Greatest Movie Ever Sold at Sundance later this month. The film, which is being touted as the first ever “docbuster,” is a documentary about branding, advertising and product placements completed financed by corporate sponsorships. The above poster was designed by Ron English whose work critiques the marketing practices of many brands, most notably McDonald’s. The poster takes some swipes at White Castle, Aunt Jemima and Kellogg’s so click here to enlarge it for a more detailed view.
Thanks to Flickr user Agent J Loves Agent A for the cool find.
While I’m not familiar with fast food franchise FatBurger, they’ve done something pretty remarkable in rebranding 64 of its locations into Bob’s Burger, a fictional restaurant featured in Fox’s new animated series of the same name. 7-Eleven launched a similar promotion in 2007 when it “Simpsonized” 11 of its stores into Kwik-E-Marts for the release of The Simpsons Movie. The FatBurger makeover is a bit riskier because 7-Eleven was integrating elements from The Simpsons, an established TV show and brand. This was lauded as a brilliant example of reverse product placement because it allowed customers to enjoy the fictional world of Springfield with products like Krusty O’s and Squishee drinks. The cross-promotion was a welcomed treat for any Simpsons fan. In comparison, Bob’s Burger is a new series without a built-in fan base or place in pop culture history. Regardless, its refreshing to see brands giving customers the opportunity to engage with fictional worlds.
On a side note, I wonder if it’s just a coincidence that both FatBurger and Bob’s Burger logo are red and yellow
I’m not sure where there’s a FatBurger, but here’s a coupon to use if you’re near one. My gift to you!!
Images via: FatBurger
For its Fall/Winter 2010 collection, Supreme released a line of hoodies which are undoubtedly inspired by the iconic DKNY mural that once graced the corner of Houston and Broadway. The famed mural, which was painted in 1992, proudly displayed the New York City skyline along with the Statue of Liberty in the foreground. While many considered the mural a glorified billboard, after the September 11th attacks it gained greater significance because it featured the World Trade Center towers in the distance. In June 2009, the mural was painted over with a gross ad for Hollister, signifying Soho’s transformation into a suburban shopping mall.
I’ve noticed stickers baring “SUPNY” all over Soho and originally thought the stickers were the calling card of a local street artist. I’ve seen artists such as Dickchicken utilize corporate branding in their work. I’m sure any native/long-time New Yorker is automatically reminded of DKNY when they see the SUPNY stickers. Supreme drew inspiration from that iconic mural that once captured New York before 9/11, gentrification and commercialization dulled the city’s edge. Although Supreme replaced the DKNY letters, it still shares the stage with the fashion label, which is perhaps what the retailer intended. After all, the DKNY mural went beyond branding–it became a cultural icon.
The giant Michelin Man/Pillsbury Doughboy hybrid won’t be stomping through the streets of New York anytime soon, but thanks Omni Consumer Products you can relive your favorite Ghostbusters memories. Pete Hottelet, the defictionalization mastermind behind Brawndo, Sex Panther cologne and Tru Blood, has now introduced Stay Puft marshmellows to the real world. The fictional treat was first seen among Dana Barrett’s groceries during the scene where a carton of eggs explode on her countertop. I’m sure every child of the 80s longed to hoover these down. I sure did and now that I’m a grown up, I’m total using Stay Puft marshmallows to make candied sweet potatoes for Thanksgiving. They’re also caffeinated and go well with Hi-C Ecto Cooler.
Click here to view Dana’s eggs going berserk, which seems very apropos given the massive egg recall.
A recent Adweek article suggests that to combat time-shifted viewing, networks should consider promoting new shows on rival networks. Granted this is all food for thought since most network execs are reluctant to air promos encouraging viewers to switch channels. This kumbaya, teamwork approach isn’t plausible because the networks don’t what to play nice, it’ll never happen because they fail to realize that viewers have evolved and are fully versed in contemporary TV-watching literacy. As the articles states, many of those in the industry, “believe viewers would be confused after decades of conditioning to look for a new show solely on the network where they saw it promoted.”
What? Confused? No!! Television viewing now mimics web-surfing habits. With DVRs and the detailed on-screen guides and menus that are customary with cable packages, people know how to search and find their programs. On that note, viewers are no longer confined to a handful or even a few dozen networks–they have HUNDREDS of channels and would probably opt to actively search for a program than to guess what network it’s on. If the popularity of Google has taught us anything, when people want information or clarity, they search. Those decades of conditioning have been undone. Audiences aren’t loyal to specific networks; they’re free to roam and watch shows however they want.
This poorly thought out NYT article reminds me of the Jeanine Garofalo joke about fashion and the runway that goes:
They have these runway shows and then they have a commentator going, “A return to glamor this season. A pretty face is your best asset this season.” As opposed to last season. When ugly girls had a free ride. When back fat was all the rage.
Granted I mis-remembered that joke and originally thought it exclusively pertained to overweight women, but Maria Ricapito’s piece is still ill-conceived and biased. It’s something that I hope Jezebel picks up on as she seems to forget the entire sub-genre of action films (think Die Hard) where one man is responsible for saving the day.
Here’s particularly savory quote:
Perhaps Americans feel powerless in an era of gushing oil, ongoing wars and a slippery economy, and want to believe that the little people can vanquish the big bad guys.
Woohoo!! Girl power!!
In the “Gamer in the Grease” episode of Bones, the team investigates the death of the only player known to achieve a perfect score on the game, Punky Pong. When I originally watched the episode, I was struck by how it portrayed fandom and exhaustively the promoted the theatrical release of Avatar. Eager fans were framed as overzealous and even called “freaks and fanatics” by one of the characters (click here for a clip). The inclusion of the subplot that consisted of characters waiting in line for Avatar tickets reeked of a poorly conceived synergy effort that would ultimately make the episode seem dated in reruns (click here for more of my thoughts on movie product placements).
The “Gamer in the Grease” episode included several topics that deserve further analysis including the heavily featured Punky Pong game, which is an example of fictionalized product displacement. The arcade game Bones examines is branded with an ape holding a paddle. Punky Pong name itself is a sort of hybrid reference to Donkey Kong and PONG. The actual purpose of the game is exactly like PONG where a player continually hits a ball back to the opponent. Originally, Punky Pong only existed in the Bones world, but in effort to give its viewers a seen-on-TV experience, Fox launched it on its site after the episode aired. A friend, and apparent Bones fan, informed me that Fox aired promos inviting viewers to visit Fox.com to play the actual game during the episode’s commercial breaks.
Fox essentially defictionalized Punky Pong and created a commodity to engage Bones viewers into the crime procedural’s world. Punky Pong also allowed fans to engage with each other by spreading the game’s link and posting their high scores. It also stimulated viewer curiosity–here, one inquires whether the game is real in which another viewer poignantly responds, “It is now. It didn’t exist before the Bones episode (Gamer in the Grease, Season 5 Episode 9) was created.”
I receive a lot of blog and Flickr hits from people searching for information regarding Alt World 2, a fictionalized Second Life-like game that was featured in a Ghost Whisperer episode. Alt World 2 was never developed into an actual game or even a fan forum, but I get the sense that viewers would welcome and even appreciate playing once fictional games. I think people enjoy the possibility of playing a game that they may already be familiar with in a new context that is established by a show they watch. I track a lot of fictionalized brands for my product displacement blog, but never see search terms regarding whether Mapple, ScienceWater or Buy More actually exist.
Perhaps because games can readily be posted online, people assume games featured on shows are real. In the case of Grand Theft Walrus, a fictionalized version of Grand Theft Auto where a walrus kills penguins, it only existed in The Simpsons world, but was then created by fans of the show. Had Fox released GTW with Rockstar Games, it would have given game the authenticity to be rendered defictionalized, but instead the GTW game available online is stuck in the realm of fan fiction.
I’ve recently noticed an uptick of ads where swear words have been replaced or mildly censored. This trend was prevalent before CBS introduced the sitcom $#*! My Dad Says as part of its fall lineup. The show, which is based on a Twitter feed, has since garnered more press over its “edgy” title than its comedic quality. To further push the envelop, CBS will air it on Thursdays at 8:30PM, a timeslot which is traditionally considered “family hour.” Whether the show is a hit or gets canceled before mid-season, expect to see a lot more colorfully titled shows and films, with two recent examples being Dance Your Ass Off and Kick-Ass.
The promotional materials for Dance Your Ass Off substitute stars symbols for the letter S, but the name of the reality competition program has not been censored during broadcast network coverage of it. Ads for Kick-Ass were displayed uncensored and hardly seemed risqué. It seems attempts a censoring the language in titles and slogans works to highlight the swear words used. The censoring of the titles $#*! My Dad Says and Dance Your Ass Off is meant to make otherwise bland/cookie-cutter shows seem innovative.
Using censorship to make boring content seem edgy is a fairly logical marketing approach. What doesn’t make sense to be is why Dreamworks promoted Shrek Forever After with ads featuring the tag lines, “What the Shrek just happened?” and “Where my witches at?” To my knowledge there weren’t any protest against the ads even though they’re riddled with blatant innuendo that any child growing up with contemporary media would be able to decipher. A children’s film isn’t the ideal arena to experiment with word-play derived from foul language, but it seems Dreamworks did.
Hulu is going pay. It was inevitable. Hulu is also seeking to customize viewers’ ad experience by allowing them to vote on whether certain pre-rolls appeal to them. If you use Hulu as much as I do, you’ve probably seen this (Look at the upper right-hand corner). I recently encountered a survey where Hulu offers participants the opportunity to select a charity that will be featured in Hulu videos 250 times. Basically Hulu is getting FREE consumer feedback and showing its “appreciation” by letting users select the ads other users will watch all under the guise of charity.
I hope I’m not coming off as a curmudgeon because Hulu actually features a great deal of ads for charity, which is fabulous for raising awareness (glance through my Flickr set for examples).
The above Weatherproof ad featuring Obama was greeted with controversy when it first appeared in Times Square back in January. Shortly after the billboard was pulled for using Obama’s image without the White House’s consent, a very similar ad for AMC’s Breaking Bad appeared. The similarities between the billboards are pretty obvious (Great Wall of China, black jacket, a smoldering, contemplative gaze) but what’s particularly interesting are the parodied elements of the original ad. The Breaking Bad billboard wonderfully utilizes product displacement to piggyback on the hoopla surrounding the Weatherproof ad. This strikes me as win-win situation for both AMC and Weatherproof since they both capitalize on viewers’ encoding/decoding of the billboards’ cultural relevance .
A special thank you to Brechtbug for the awesome photos!!
Since beginning my initial work on product displacement, I’ve noted several instances in which companies utilize unbranding techniques in their advertising campaigns (Coca-Cola, Starbucks, Freshjive). AT&T’s “Rethink Possible” campaign aims to align its brand with innovation and optimism rather than just promoting their latest products or services. AT&T wants to enhance its image and as mentioned in this NYT article, “selling on price is a pathway to commoditization.”
As you can see from the above image, AT&T has ditched its brand name and emphasizes its iconic globe. While the company hasn’t completely unbranded itself because the globe symbol boasts a high 90% recognition rate among consumers, AT&T is demonstrating that less prominent branding can empower a company’s image. The omission of the letters is strategic leadership move and “displaying [the globe] without the “AT&T” echoes the way Nike is recognized by its swoosh and Target by its target.” By taking the focus off its products and communicating arbitrary messages about the future and technology, AT&T has adopted an open-ended campaign in which consumers engage with the brand by aligning it with personal notions of what innovation means to themselves.
A few weeks ago I noticed subtle yet dramatic changes to VitaminWater’s iconic labels. The once plain (almost medical-looking) labels are now shiny–flashy even. Over at my Flickr page, I’ve annotated the differences between the old and new packaging. The witty, conversational copy has remained the same, but the label makeover makes me wonder if changes are part of an overall rebranding strategy designed to resonate with Millennials. Earlier this year, VitaminWater introduced a new flavor called Connect, which was created by Facebook users. More recent VitaminWater additions also include flavors calls Dwnld and Spark. Perhaps the shiny labels are supposed to signify perpetual connectivity or inclusion in some social network. Please feel free to tag any differences I might have missed.
If you’ve seen the Filet-O-Fish commercial McDonald’s airs for Lent, then you’re familiar with “Frankie the Fish” and his infectious jingle. Not being one to miss an opportunity to capitalize on kitschy sentimentality, McDonald’s has released a “Frankie the Fish” novelty frame that was obviously inspired by pop culture sensation, Big Mouth Billy Bass. We’ve seen fictional products from shows be developed into real products; (ex: Tru Blood) Rob Walker calls this “imaginary brands” and Brandweek has described the process as “reverse product placement.” Based on McDonald’s bringing the tacky decoration to market, “Frankie the Fish” garners as much if not more attention to than the menu item being advertised.
I assume that the reverse product placement of the Frankie frame is the result of constant television airings and Internet hype. I imagine somebody purchasing the frame to be ironic or for a cheap laugh. Whatever the reason, the irony and humor of “Frankie the Fish” is fleeting and can probably only be appreciated during Lent, when the ads air frequently. Coca-Cola introduced the red and white branded Santa Claus, whose image is a cultural signifier of Christmas, so perhaps “Frankie the Fish” is the McDonald’s way of creating a holiday mascot with a catchy jingle and all.
The above image was part of a pre-roll ad that aired several hours before Superbowl XLIV. In celebration of the game, Hulu launched a special section called AdZone which will feature Superbowl commercials after they air during the broadcast. Hulu visitors will be allowed to vote on their favorite ad. We all know that the ads are part of the Superbowl’s appeal and people expect them to be grandiose and entertaining. The game is continuously the most-watched telecast of the year and is pretty much immune to time-shifting and audience segmentation, issues that are haunting broadcast networks. The Hulu spot and the whole AdZone concept makes me wonder what kind of viewing behavior is Hulu encouraging?
Live blogging, Tweeting and chatting about shows as they air is becoming part of the viewing experience. For an event that is synonymous to HD, big screen TVs, it seems Hulu is reminding visitors to go online for a more involved, informed and personalized feeling. While Hulu is primarily a streaming video service and, the AdZone section does have some social network-like offerings, such as a message board. The site provides a space for reflection and discussion where viewers can feel actively involved in a cultural event.
Generally, companies do not want their products to be associated with drugs, violence and crime. Mercedes-Benz, for example, demanded any appearance of its logo be removed from Slumdog Millionaire to avoid being associated with Mumbai poverty. Danny Boyle was forced to resort to product displacement and digitally remove the logos from the film. Post-production digital pixelation and physically covering up labels are the most common methods of unbranding a scene to omit any references to trademarked brands.
The “Sweet-N-All” episode of Nurse Jackie provides a fascinating approach to product displacement because it features an establishing shot of sugar packets that instructs viewers to identify Sweet’N All as an artificial sweetener. In this shot, packets of Domino Sugar, Equal, Sweet’N Low and Sweet’N All fall on the floor as Jackie shares an intimate moment with her husband before their daughters arrive for breakfast. It’s important to note that Sweet’N Low and Sweet’N All packets were displayed together because it demonstrates that both brands exist within the Nurse Jackie world. It can even be interpreted that the two pink-packaged sweeteners are rival brands. Sweet’N All is essentially, not a fictionalized version of Sweet’N Low, but rather, it’s a separate, albeit fictional brand that was created to establish the industrious lengths Jackie goes through to fuel her addiction.
A few minutes into the episode, during a voice-over narration, Jackie, with a hint of triggered fondness states, “Sweet’N All. Sounds like Seconal. Remember Seconal?” and then goes on to tell viewers to “watch and learn” as she empties the content of a Sweet’N All packet. She then methodically crushes a mortar full of Percocet, fills three Sweet’N All packets with the drug and seals them to use throughout her workday. Jackie cautions that Percocet should not be chewed, crushed or snorted because, “it’ll hit your system like a bolt of lightning.” With a complete disregard to the forewarned dangers of Percocet, Jackie nonchalantly places the packets in her sweater pocket. Essentially, the Sweet’N All packaging is repurposed by Jackie as drug paraphernalia. The production would have certainly faced legal action if it used Sweet’N Low in such a manner.
The “Black Light Attack!” episode of 30 Rock included an entertaining scene where Liz Lemon attempts to persuade the delusional Jenna to accept her age gracefully. Meryl Streep is often listed as an inspiration to many actresses and Jenna’s flattering dialogue is meant to be interpreted as referring to Streep until true to her narcissistic character, she proclaims Madonna’s name. Meryl Streep’s symbol as an acting icon, as well as her age help set up the comedic twist. Streep is currently starring in It’s Complicated with 30 Rock’s Alec Baldwin, which makes me wonder if mentioning her name was a subliminal way of promoting the NBC Universal (parent company of 30 Rock) film; after all, this wouldn’t be the first time a Meryl Streep film was promoted on the show.
Just last season, when Jack revealed to Liz that he had narrowed down his biological father to one of three men, Liz stated, “It’s a Mamma Mia.” The episode, also titled “Mamma Mia,” even followed the musical’s plot. It’s been reported that at the end of the episode, a commercial advertising the film’s DVD release aired. I’m not sure if an ad for It’s Complicated aired during the January 14 episode since the film premiered during Christmas weekend. However, since Mamma Mia was also released by NBC Universal, I don’t believe any mention of Meryl Streep is just a mere coincidence. 30 Rock has always been on the forefront of brand integrations and I think the show cleverly used Streep as a subtle references to promote NBC’s entertainment products.
I imagine Streep’s name was meant to get viewers thinking and making connections such as, “Meryl Streep’s in that movie with Jack. Who’s the actor that plays Jack? Oh, right. Alec Baldwin. She’s in that movie with Alec Baldwin. She plays a middle-aged woman that gets back together with Alec Baldwin, her ex-husband. What’s that movie called? Uh, I think It’s Complicated, that sounds right. Steve Martin is in it too. Oh, wasn’t he in an episode of 30 Rock last season? That was a good episode. I like Steve Martin. It’s Complicated sounds like a good movie. That guy Jim from The Office is in it too. I should go see that movie.” Pure genius!!
What are some products that are so uniquely designed, that the omission of any distinguishable logos has little to no effect on people’s ability to correctly identify the brand? Hummer and Volkswagen Beetles are two products that come to mind. Here are a few others:
Sure, this may be a more archaic model of a Blackberry, but it demonstrates the unique features that make the phone so recognizable. Before the ubiquity of smartphones, this classic Blackberry served as the blueprint of their design. During the 2006 season of Survivor, a contestant found a piece of wood shaped like the mobile device and pretended to send and read emails by using an imaginary scroll wheel.
In the first picture, Pringles canisters are lined on shelves in a manner that the brand name and logo are not visible. Pringles promotes the fact that it comes in a canister as opposed to a bag. This innovative packaging helps give Pringles a pop culture uniqueness that prevents the brand from being just another salty snack indulgence.
When it comes to maple syrup, Aunt Jemima and Mrs. Buttersworth are staples at the breakfast table, but the distinctive bottles help make the brand all the more memorable and fun.
The oft-imitated and parodied VitaminWater bottle solidifies the importance of package design in establishing a brand’s identity. When Glacéau sought to patent the VitaminWater bottle and go after rival companies imitating its design, the company pointed out how consumers may get confused and purchase the wrong product. In a roundabout way, the lawsuit pursuits demonstrate the effectiveness of fictionalized product displacement.
The above image shows the TicTac brand name, but the transparent plastic case that houses the 1 1/2 calorie mints is part of its branding.
Little Trees is notoriously protective over its trademarked tree-shaped air freshener. Even though the product may be well-known to car owners, Little Trees is not exactly a household brand.
Brown uniforms and brown delivery trucks are synonymous with UPS.
Although its design has been modified several times, the iPod, along with the accompanied white earbuds, remains a highly identifiable product.
Like many other Apple products, the iPhone has garnered iconic design status and is capable of promoting the Apple brand without any hint of a logo.
OREO COOKIES & POST-IT NOTES
Even though both Oreo and Post-It are visually identifiable, they are proprietary eponyms and often equated with their cheaper, generic imitators. The above examples, with possibly Little Trees being the only exception, maintain their brand identities and meanings.
The last Coca-Cola ad campaign I remember being launched was “Open Happiness,” which included a catchy jingle that never once mentioned the brand. I thought this was pretty clever and original. Fast-forward a few months and Coca-Cola is beginning a new campaign to promote the brand as being part of a healthy lifestyle because it’s now offering clearer nutrition/calorie labeling and smaller portion sizes. This whole approach is very reminiscent of the changes McDonald’s made to its menu shortly after the fast-food bashing documentary, Super Size Me was released. We all know junk food and sugary drinks aren’t healthy choices, so these attempts at promoting better nutrition and physical activity is kind of like pissing in the wind.
Granted, Coca-Cola’s latest campaign isn’t only about encouraging healthy lifestyles, (ha!) it also touts the beverage giant’s positive impact on communities and encourages people to “make a difference.” This campaign by the way is eerily called “Live Positively” and features a logo that consists of a plus sign and Coke’s signature red and white branding. I believe “Live Positively” was only recently introduced in the United States, but has been used throughout other countries for sometime. I understand the campaign is supposed to communicate empowerment and social responsibility, but the name and imagery reminds me of HIV/AIDS. I know that I’m not reading too much into “Live Positively” because you don’t have to be a master in semiotic analysis to correlate the campaigns symbols with HIV/AIDS. Project Red is a lot subtler in its branding and it’s goal is actually to promote HIV/AIDS awareness.
Even though the disease doesn’t carry the stigma that it once did during the 1980s, the idea of “living positively” is not an ideal. I know Coca-Cola means to inspire positive thinking and positive actions, but the campaign is susceptible to too much misinterpretation. And images like the one above do not help because what I see, and I’m sure others see, is a sort of life-monitoring reading that flatlines. It’s something I would expect Adbusters or other culture jammers to create, not the company itself.
Image via: Coca-Cola Newsletters
In 2006, Goodyear teamed with Disney and Pixar to promote Cars. In the animated film, the main character, Lightening McQueen (pictured above), dons Lightyear tires and the Lightyear blimp is visible during speedway races. Goodyear’s director of marketing, Joey Viselli, has noted that the company allowed Disney/Pixar to have fun with the brand, but not with the actual brand itself, meaning Goodyear’s inclusion in the film stops short of traditional product placement. Instead, the Lightyear cameos are an example of sponsored product displacement. I’ve been tracking product displacement for a while now, and the Lightyear/Cars occurrence is the only example I’m aware of in which a brand lobbies to be parodied or fictionalized. To promote the release of the film, Goodyear tweaked its iconic Spirit of Goodyear blimp to read “Lightyear” for 15 days and offered Cars-related giveaways.
Ads are obviously used to increase brand awareness and likability, so as media habits change, adverting approaches need to evolve as well. Compared to television, watching videos online is significantly more active. People actively seek online video content as opposed to aimlessly flicking through channels. I’ve recently noticed a proliferation of Hulu ads that appeal to the more active, and possibly impatient, type of viewership emerging.
The Hulu ad package has gone from predictable overlays, slates and pre-rolls to experiences where viewers chose which ads play or watch “branded commercial-free” content (click here for video example). Last year, Hulu unveiled what I refer to as their “choices” feature, which provides the option of watching one long-form video or several shorter ones. Hulu describes it as a “win/win experience for both the advertiser and the user” (via: Hulu Case Study). This approach has evolved to Hulu offering viewers ad selection options, which of course provide for a more meaningful and memorable experience.
In a medium where people can search for, create and tune-out content so easily, it seems only natural for them decide what marketing messages they would like to receive. Unlike YouTube, which recently introduced an ad-skipping option to its site, even Hulu’s commercial fast-forwarding feature is brand-sponsored (click here for video example). What Hulu particularly succeeds at, is making its ads seem non-invasive. I’ll go as far to say that it’s creating opportunities for ads to be a form of entertainment. YouTube product manager, Phil Farhi states, “Advertisers like in-stream ads because they look and feel like TV ads,” however to truly reach and engage audiences pre-rolls/in-stream ads must mimic how people use the web (via: Adweek). Case in point: Lowe’s Christmas ads inviting users to tour its websites.
The Lowe’s ads combines terms like “mouse around” and “explore” with interactive displays that invite heavy click-through activity. Viewers are even invited to build their own online Christmas tree, which would obviously distract them from the program they’re watching. Farhi believes people are “less conditioned” to ad interruptions online, but I believe since the Internet consists of perpetual interruptions, advertisers just need to put audiences in the driver’s seat and make those interruptions entertaining.
Hulu in-stream ads aren’t going the way of the 30-second TV spot, they’re going the way of the app. By this I mean they have the potential to develop into fun ways to waste/occupy time. I recently saw a Hulu ad for Toyota that featured a trivia game before my program began. I played out of curiosity and boredom, but was overall impressed by the lack of the hard sell. And with Hulu inevitably transitioning into both an ad-supported and subscription service, the advertising as entertainment approach seems even more appealing and less likely to draw resentment.
Jack Donaghy enjoys the finer things in life, so it’s no wonder he shops at Vatenné, a luxury clothing store that sells $500 neckties. Vatenné is another addition to fictional 30 Rock brands that highlight the absurdity of consumer culture and place characters into specific class brackets. In “Secret Santa,” Jack’s “blue blood” attire is a sharp contrast to his working-class Boston roots and makes for a strange juxtaposition as he tries to woo Nancy Donovan, an old crush with a piercing Southie accent. Jack’s wealth and stature suggests he’s allowed to possess a degree of vanity and self-absorption while his masculinity remains unquestioned. While, he’s an alpha male, Jack is certainly not an “average Joe,” which was evident during the “Into the Crevasse” episode where to give the impression of frugality, he has his assistant replace the Vatenné label on his tie with one from JCPenney.
In “When TV Became Art,” Emily Nussbaum correlates the popularity of programs containing non-linear plotlines and spastic chronology (Lost, Flashforward) to the growing penetration of DVRs. In this sense, the narrative world of television adopted and mimicked the behavior that time-shifting devices encouraged. As television-viewing rituals evolved, the structural and artistic elements of entertainment content followed suit. This makes me wonder what the future of television and its related technologies will look like as programs become even more nuanced and demanding of audiences.
Early this week, Boxee, a social, streaming media center, unveiled several television model-busting applications for its service. The one that piqued my interest the most because it directly relates to product placements, was Qurious, (pronounced “curious”) an app that instantly pulls up information on the actors, songs, topics and products featured on screen. Qurious was developed by students from NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program and brilliantly demonstrates a reconceptualized form of viewer interactivity. Watching television will turn into a more involved experience which emphasizes a structure of engagement that goes far beyond the oft-used recall metrics.
To maintain this level of interactivity and engagement, program content will have to become increasingly multifaceted, transcendent and subtle. Blatant, spoon-fed information and marketing messages will flounder in this television environment because with knowledge-generating technology, audiences will want to seek out information and deconstruct their entertainment. Curiosity is a form of engagement. I can picture the wealth of real-time data that an application like Qurious can provide advertisers as viewers perform search queries. The contemporary television-watching experience does not start and end with the television itself as it now extends to an anytime, anywhere activity.
Lately I’ve noticed a proliferation of subway ads for cultural institutions such as, MoMA, The Whitney, BAM and Guggenheim in addition to ads for Broadway shows. Of course seeing ads for these New York destinations within the city should be expected, but as a native New Yorker, I don’t remember ever seeing the arts so heavily promoted on subway platforms. I must say these ads are a breath of fresh air from the usual movie, clothing, and liquor posters that are typically plastered beneath the city streets. The grim advertising market of 2008 and 2009 are probably responsible for them as well seeing how Titan Worldwide, an outdoor advertising company, has fallen $7.5 million short in ad sales and payments to the MTA. Titan’s chairman has even noted that advertising contracts with transit agencies like the MTA have never experienced such revenue loss (via: NYT).
If large companies are purchasing significantly less ads as the MTA faces a budget crisis, it makes sense for ad space to be available cheaply for organizations that do not usually have the funds for extensive campaigns. Facing declining ad sales, I would have expected the MTA to mimic the television industry by attempting to woo small businesses with lower rates. Last year, Snuggie commercials reached pop culture notoriety through repeated prime-time airings as many television networks offered record low ad rates. With this in mind, I figured ads for cheap legal counsel, ESL schools, and dermatologists would once again be on display.
In 1997, the MTA began seeking larger, more profitable accounts and limited the banner space available to smaller businesses in addition to significantly increasing ad prices (via: NYT). This past summer, the MTA sold the naming rights of the Atlantic Avenue, Pacific Street and Flatbush Avenue subway stations to bank giant, Barclays, so it’s still very interested in partnering with lucrative companies. In 1996, the MTA generated $23 million in ad revenue compared to the estimated $110 million it generated during 2008 (via: Second Ave. Sagas). Suffice it to say, the dynamic of the city has changed considerably over the past 13 years. Neighborhoods have undergone dramatic gentrification, advertising became more invasive, iPods became the commuter’s accessory of choice and amidst rising gas prices and “go green” rhetoric, riding the subway became a smart, economic and environmental activity.
With some brands steering away from traditional marketing and seeking to create immersive experiences by advertising throughout entire cars and stations, it can be argued that the subway can exude a dry, corporate feel. Granted that’s better than just being overwhelmed by grime, putrid smells and rats, but the MTA needs to keep in mind that the subway is a public space. I appreciate the MTA’s “Arts For Transit” program, which commissions artists to create dynamic installations and murals in stations, and think these sort of initiatives enhance the commuting experience. Perhaps the “Arts For Transit” is another factor behind the system-wide increase in cultural ads, as I’m certain the program encourages a demand for such ads.
When I first saw the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater ad, (top of post) I was reminded of Robert Mapplethorpe’s work. I relish seeing ads for museums and plays on a daily basis. We often become so involved in work, school, technology, or a monotonous routine, that we forget to seek out art, creativity, culture and inspiration. These ads are a great reminder of what the city has to offer and what New Yorkers often take for granted.
In the above scene, Jack and several writers diligently work with an engineer to design a microwave that will increase GE’s revenue. The Microsoft Windows logo is visible on the engineer’s laptop, which is unusual considering that the majority of Windows-based computers are branded with the manufacturer’s logo (i.e. Dell, HP). Even more unusual is that 30 Rock frequently features Apple products–both Jack and Liz use Apple computers. In the past, the show has even disclosed Apple as a promotional sponsor in its credits. Naturally, the Windows occurrence has invited speculation as to whether or not it was a paid-for placement.
The episode in question, “Into the Crevasse,” aired on October 22nd, which is also when Microsoft’s new operating system, Windows 7, was released. The laptop placement is not merely a coincidence as Microsoft has announced an extensive integration deal with Fox’s Family Guy. Before pulling out of sponsoring a commercial-free airing of the raunchy animated series, Microsoft praised the “subversive and unique humor” of Family Guy. Microsoft was obviously open to experimenting with its brand integration so it’s certainly plausible to believe that the company approached 30 Rock with a sponsorship offer.
Even though the Microsoft-branded laptop is a fictional product, it promotes the company and serves to remind viewers of Windows 7. In that sense, it’s a typical product placement, but I believe Tina Fey and the other geniuses over at 30 Rock cleverly included subtle commentary that portrays Windows in a negative way. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but the Windows laptop was used by the engineer to create a mockup of microwave that had the potential to save GE from financial ruin. Instead, the engineer, following the suggestions of Jack and the writers, designs a Pontiac Aztek, which has been credited as being one of General Motors’ biggest mistakes. As the Aztek appears on the screen of the Windows laptop, I can’t help, but feel that the presentation of a notably failed product, implicitly highlights Microsoft’s shortcomings. Ultimately Jack’s pursuit of creating an innovative microwave was a failure and that failure was executed on a Windows-based laptop. Jack’s failure can even be associated with that Windows laptop. The writer’s, who are normally inundated with ideas, are only able to offer Jack and the engineer half-brained suggestions.
This episode, hardly featured any Apple products — I actually, only spotted one Apple occurrence. Apple computers, which are associated with creativity, were lacking as were innovative suggestions to solve GE problem. Sure, I realize this whole plot point was meant to poke fun at GM, but it critiqued Microsoft as well.
According to The Daily Mail, Kellogg’s plans to laser its logo on individual corn flakes. The drastic and peculiar plan is meant to emphasize the Kellogg’s brand name in a cereal market flooded with cheaper generic options, which they refer to as “fake flakes.”
Helen Lyons, Lead Food Technologist at the company states, “We want shoppers to be under absolutely no illusion that Kellogg’s does not make cereal for anyone else. We’re constantly looking at new ways to reaffirm this and giving our golden flakes of corn an official stamp of approval could be the answer. We’ve established that it is possible to apply a logo or image onto food, now we need to see if there is a way of repeating it on large quantities of our cereal. We’re looking into it.” [via: The Daily Mail]
I’ve debated whether generic brands are forms of product displacements and ultimately decided that they are since they mimic packaging and naming conventions of their brand name counterparts. In the midst of a recession, consumers often buy generic products to save money. As generic/store brands improved in quality, consumers realize that when they purchase brand name cereal, they are just paying for advertising.
The Kellogg’s laser idea is an attempt to give their corn flakes cereal a label of prestigiousness. As I’ve stated many times when discussing product displacement, even if a brand is tweaked, consumers will still identify the greeked product with the brand referenced. Based on Lyons’ statement, it seems Kellogg’s is worried that product displacement is working too well because consumers assume that all corn flakes are made by Kellogg’s. Click here for another example of a “generic” cereal. Can you guess the brand name cereal being reference?
The above image is one of the most viewed pictures in my Flickr photostream. The majority of viewers find the image by conducting keyword searches for “Alt World 2,” a fictionalized interpretation of the virtual world application, Second Life. In the “Ghost in the Machine” episode of Ghost Whisperer, Melinda is shown how to create an avatar and navigate through a virtual environment in order to catch a child predator. The Alt World 2 interface and its function closely resembles Second Life’s, but since the plot addressed the dangers of online worlds, it’s only natural that Second Life would want to avoid being mentioned or featured in the episode.
A behind-the-scenes clip, previously available on CBS.com, detailed Alt World 2’s creation process and featured the director and designers discussing their inspiration for the animation and graphics. What I find particularly interesting, are the viewer inquiries as to whether or not the Alt World 2 game exists in real life. Here, a Ghost Whisperer viewer identifies Second Life as an Alt World 2 substitute and reminds another fan about the dangers discussed on the show. At MIT’s Futures of Entertainment 3 conference, Ghost Whisperer Executive Producer, Kim Moses, touted the show’s transmedia storytelling ability as successfully connecting viewers to its content. Through the use of webisodes, books, message boards and fan fiction, Moses has laid the foundation to engage audiences. When I refer to engagement, I am referring to the resulting audience behavior, recall and participation after watching the program. It’s understandable for viewers to wonder if Alt World 2 is a real game given Ghost Whisperer’s presence across various media forms. Seeking out information regarding Alt World 2 is a form of engagement because it illustrates an interest in the show’s content that extends beyond the initial television airing.
I’m sure some Ghost Whisperer viewers are familiar with Second Life, but given all the outlets fans have to discuss the show, it’s completely plausible for them to believe that the Alt World 2 exits. Although an actual Alt World 2 gaming platform never came to a fruition, audience reaction to it demonstrates that product displacement can engage viewers and pique their curiosity. Fans that searched for Alt World 2 probably viewed it as another medium to connect with the Ghost Whisperer world. The episode featuring Alt World 2 originally aired October 2008, but searches for it appear on my Flickr stats almost everyday. Alt World 2 is a great example of a product displacement that really resonated with viewers. It’s a shame the game wasn’t developed into an actual social networking platform. I’m pretty sure Second Life was never approached to be included in the episode, but Alt World 2 presents the company with an opportunity to create virtual environments specifically for television shows.
PSFK recently wrote about Freshjive’s initiative to remove its logo and brand name from its clothing and inner labels. The blog refers to Freshjive’s latest design approach, which consists of plain black labels that only detail the garment’s size encased in a white frame, as an anti-branding campaign. This is a misreading of the streetwear company’s strategy, which is to unbrand itself in order to create a new identity or establish a different kind of relevance within the fashion industry. Freshjive’s owner and designer, Rick Klotz, states, “Throughout the years I’ve become uncomfortable with this business of branding and brand identity. I’m not the type of person that buys something for the brand name.” He goes on to describe the presence of logos on clothing as an anathema to individualism.
Consumers are steadily becoming more critical of branding and Klotz is cleverly flattering his fanbase for their resistance to advertising. Freshjive is great example of product displacement emerging as an effective marketing strategy in the real world (See my post on Starbucks). Klotz essentially unbranded Freshjive to create a new, poignant identity that appeals to its discerning clientele. By unbranding Freshjive, Klotz has created an opportunity to distance his brand from rival companies and re-encode what his label stands for. He admits the minimalist garment labels are a form of branding and in a comment on PSFK writes, “I am aware it’s not a “pure” non branding move. But I still believe the process of taking the logo/name off the labels (while still retaining the label) is a step in a good direction, and in the least creates awareness and further critique.”
On that note, one element that is present in many instances of fictionalized product displacements on television is the use of parody. It seems Klotz intends on parodying iconic logos and warns branders, “Careful when building an influential logo, as I just might use that influence through some further graphic manipulation, and throw it back out into the market like a brick bashing through a window.” Klotz’s removal of Freshjive logos coupled with his intention to mock other brands for the sake of raising awareness to branding, situates his fans as both ad busters and consumers. This rather unique combination that capitalizes on media literacy and skepticism.
In July, Starbucks opened three new coffee shops in Seattle which noticeably lacked its iconic branding. One of the unbranded, remodeled stores will simply be known as 15th Ave Coffee and Tea—a strategy executives are using to capture a more community-oriented feel. Essentially, Starbucks is trying to present itself as a neighborhood coffee shop instead of a corporate conglomerate that ruins small businesses. Critics have referred to the shops as “Stealth Starbucks” and while this sort of marketing is rather subversive, we really shouldn’t be surprised that it has emerged. In an environment in which consumers are bombarded with brand messages and have developed a hyper-awareness and distain for perpetually invasive marketing, companies need to soften their approach. Displacing the familiar slogans, and visual cues that are synonymous with a brand may be a risky move, but several marketers are going this innovative route.
Recently, Coca-Cola launched its “Open Happiness” campaign which consists of a song and music video that do not mention/show the company or any of its products. The campaign seems to be a hit with consumers (mostly outside the U.S.) and according to Umut Ozaydinli, Coca-Cola’s global music marketing manager, “the lack of an in-your-face Coke message is “one of the key reasons” consumers have shown interest in the song” (via: NYT) While not entirely an example of a self-displacement and unbranding, Pepsi began a campaign in Argentina encouraging Argentineans to refer to the brand as “Pecsi.” Pepsi is essentially promoting the “bastardizing [of its] brand name” (via: Naked). The soft drink company is not taking its branding too seriously and welcomes consumer interpretations of its brand. It’s not to say that companies engaging in self-unbranding and displacement are relinquishing control of their corporate identity to consumers—I think it’s quite the opposite.
Starbucks, Coca-Cola and Pepsi are all taking proactive measures to remain relevant and competitive. These companies are catering to an audience whose persuasion knowledge is developing and is perhaps no longer easily susceptible to traditional marketing. Persuasion knowledge involves the interpretation of how people respond, interpret and react to persuasion and influence attempts (Friestad and Wright 1994). Ad messages, whether they occur as billboards, commercials, product placements or banner ads, are losing their effectiveness because of over-saturation. Marketing in general has become rather ubiquitous and invasive, which has resulted in the formation of a hyper-aware audience that sees through and ignores most campaign strategies. As audiences grow jaded and savvy, perhaps the next way for brands to successfully engage them, is by creating ads that do not look like ads. Marketing plans will need to emulate the covertness of Starbucks and Coca-Cola, but also entertain audiences on a personal level.
Friestad, Marian and Peter Wright. “The Persuasion Knowledge Model: How People Cope with Persuasion Attempts.” Journal of Consumer Research. Vol. 21, No. 1. (June 1994).
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
As households across the country say goodbye to the antennas protruding from their television sets, and replace them with digital converter boxes, we theoretically end an era in which those metal rabbit-ears aided in establishing characters’ identities. In February, when the transition was originally scheduled to occur, 5.1% of households were unprepared. When the DTV transition deadline arrived on June 12, 2009, only an estimated 2.5% of the 114.5 million television households in the U.S. were completely unready for the signal switch from analog to digital. Since the transition was first announced viewers have purchased converter boxes en masse. With that said, the DTV transition was a shared cultural experience–one that is likely to be memorable given all the on-screen reminders and converter installation demonstrations broadcasted by local network affiliates.
For decades, antennas were synonymous with television and fuzzy reception was commonplace. But as cable subscriptions increased during the 1980s and even more so in the 1990s, the depiction of antennas in network programming came to symbolize the lack of cable television. When in the past, a scene in which a character adjusts an antenna was unmemorable and merely included for verisimilar purposes, contemporary shows utilize antennas as a visual cue to establish the socioeconomic status of characters. The screenshot above, which prominently displays antennas in the foreground, is from My Name is Earl, a sitcom featuring a former small-time thief and his trailer park-living ex-wife that’s set in the redneck town of Camden.
Married with Children frequently used the antenna to identify the Bundys as lower-middle class, but also used it to comment on Fox’s weak signal strength and position among the other three established networks. It became an on-going joke on the show where Al Bundy would instruct his family to “assume to Fox Network viewing positions,” and they each would contort themselves while holding antennas and aluminum foil in the air. (Click HERE, HERE, HERE and HERE for examples.)
Now that the DTV transition has literally turned the television antenna into a relic with no function or purpose, how will it be featured on future shows? While antennas are far from reaching the depth of obscurity and uselessness equated with rotary phones, any visual presence of rabbit-ears in a show set during present-day, would likely incite discussion about anachronism. Granted, television shows take liberties in storytelling, but for the millions of people that actually had to spend money on a converter and wait for their $40 government rebate, an use of an antenna may seem completely implausible.
DTV transition data [via: Nielsen]
The 2008/2009 season was marked with a great deal of uncertainty as automotive spending, the largest ad category for network television, steadily decreased. However, desperately needing to reach customers more than ever, the Big Three (Ford, Chrysler and GM) actively sought pricey brand integration deals. General Motors invested heavily in NBC’s quickly cancelled spy series, My Own Worst Enemy. As Brian Stelter notes in his New York Times article, integration deals are very risky and when a show is cancelled, a brand’s exposure from its product placements is as well.
In addition to being a primary sponsor of NBC’s reality show America’s Toughest Jobs, Chrysler signed an elaborate partnership with Fox’s Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles that included heavy in-program integrations of its Dodge Ram truck. The package also promoted Dodge Ram’s “Never Back Down From a Challenge” vehicle giveaway and featured blatant Dodge branding on all Sarah Connor websites and promotional materials. Dodge Ram was a very good fit for an action-packed show like Sarah Connor and even ranked second in a list of most-recalled hybrid ads (via: Nielsen).
Since Chrysler, was the exclusive automotive sponsor of the show, Sarah Connor provides great examples of techniques used to cover up competitor logos and brand names. I refer to this process as unbranding. It’s more likely for audience members to recall product occurrences In this scene, the “Chev” in Chevrolet were blackened as Cameron walks by a van. This image shows the unbranded grill of a Chevy Suburban that was digitally altered in post production. I was able to identify the SUV during a brief shot in which the Suburban brand name was (probably accidentally) visible. These examples of demonstrate how unbranding serves as a technique to enhance the advertising effectiveness of Chrysler vehicles by eliminating any presence of competitors.
In early December, as the magnitude of the automotive industry crisis was becoming even more apparent, Chrysler announced that it may not survive after 2009 and would probably file for bankruptcy. It was during this period that Chrysler product placements in began to deviate from the established norm. The “Earthlings Welcome Here” episode of Sarah Connor Chronicles, which aired December 15, 2008, signaled what I can only speculate was the end of Chrysler’s integration deal with the show. The episode does not contain any Dodge Ram occurrences, but does feature Sarah Connor driving a Jeep Liberty. The majority of shots where the Jeep brand name and logo were visible, occurred in a split second and would probably not be noticed by a casual viewer.
As I’ve noted above, unbranding is used by networks and studios to eliminate the presence of rival companies and increase brand recall. Essentially, unbranding helps eliminate the clutter and influence of brands that are not primary advertisers of a show. Viewers are more likely to remember and engage with a brand/product if it’s presented by itself. “Earthlings Welcome Here” demonstrates another industrial function of unbranding, which is to prevent giving advertisers free publicity. While Chrysler make have initially paid for a season long integration package, it’s quite possible that the company pulled out given its dismal financial state. Many of the Jeep Liberty scenes in “Earthlings Welcome Here” feature Sarah Connor driving down long, windy, empty desert roads. These are the types of images you would expect to see in a car commercial.
While I’m sure when this episode was filmed, it’s fairly clear that Chrysler’s Jeep brand was supposed to be heavily promoted, as evidenced by the title character’s (Sarah Connor) repeated use of the SUV. In addition, the Jeep Liberty was given a lot of screen-time, that was however, negated by it’s logo being digitally removed. I have include two images in my Product Placement Flickr set I believe illustrate an intended lingering visual duration of the Jeep Liberty. In this image, the Jeep is moving directly towards the camera, but there is no trace of the Jeep brand name. Several seconds later, just as Sarah Connor is visible behind the wheel, it becomes obvious that the Jeep brand name and logo were deliberately blurred out. This scene consisted of one continuous shot and would have surely generated high recall from viewers if Jeep was not displaced by the show’s unbranding efforts.
My Product Displacement blog was the subject of an AdFreak post which identified Slanket as a real product. Slanket was featured in an episode of 30 Rock in which Tracy Jordan debates presenting it as a gift for his wife. I was not aware that Slanket was an actual product and the predecessor to the now infamous Snuggie. Given all of the attention that Snuggie has received in recent months, I naturally assumed that the Slanket occurrence was another ingenious 30 Rock parody. I’m glad that AdFreak pointed out my mistake because it illustrates my assertion that fictionalized product displacements require audiences to draw upon a shared cultural knowledge. The frequency of Snuggie’s cheesy infomercial became an economic indicator during a period in which networks were forced to slash commercial rates because traditional companies were drastically reducing their ad spending. It was in this environment that the Snuggie sold over 4 million units and emerged as not only a successful business, but a pop culture symbol as well.
Given 30 Rock’s notoriety for parodying products–both fictional (Sabor De Soledad) and fictionalized (WideBalance)–it’s understandable that viewers would mistake Slanket for a fake product. As Emily Nussbaum pointed out in her New York Magazine article about the sitcom’s SoyJoy integration, 30 Rock often leaves viewers wondering whether products are real or not. The show, which held brand integration deals with Snapple, Verizon and NBC’s parent company, General Electric, has been criticized for its ubiquitous use of product placements. Most recently, Tina Fey came under fire after McDonald’s was heavily featured during a Valentine’s Day episode.
What made the Slanket occurrence so memorable and funny was Liz Lemon wearing the robe and blurting out, “It’s not product placement, I just like it” in an obviously very tongue-in-cheek response to critics. Although the Slanket is indeed a real product, because Snuggie situated itself in our national consciousness, it ultimately functions as a fictionalized product. Afterall, Slanket’s inclusion on 30 Rock emphasizes the robe’s absurdity rather than its necessity. In addition, Slanket’s blatant inclusion and its metafictive reference as a product placement, serves as a way of downplaying 30 Rock’s legitimate brand integration deals as one huge joke that helps the show retain its artistic and comedic integrity. Regardless of whether Slanket was a real product or a fictionalized displacement, it provided viewers with a hyper awareness of brand integrations while also allowing them laugh at how marketing campaigns are executed.
Product displacement typically occurs when a studio or broadcaster want to avoid giving a product/brand free publicity. Displacement is also used when companies refuse to allow their brands and logos from being shown, especially in scenes and story-lines that portray their products in a negative way.
There are TWO types of product displacements I have identified:
1) Fictionalized and 2) Unbranded
I use the term fictionalized rather than fictional because it’s a verb and implies/emphasizes that action was deliberately taken to “greek” an actual product or brand. There are many fictional brands used in scripted shows such as, Dunder Mifflin in The Office, Krusty-Os and Duff Beer in The Simpsons, Dharma Initiative in Lost, and of course, Acme in Looney Tunes.
Fictionalized brands differ in that they reference actual companies. For example, the characters in Scrubs frequently gather at a coffee shop called Coffee Bucks. The name, decor, menu and logo of Coffee Bucks are obviously modeled after the Starbucks franchise. Fictionalized product displacements are created by referencing recognizable characteristics of real brands. (See TitTat Bar example from My Name is Earl).
Unbranded product displacements use real products in scenes, but the brand names and logos are deliberately and strategically covered up.
There are two ways to unbrand a product:
1) A product can be unbranded digitally in post-production when traces of its logo or brand name are pixelated, blurred or erased. This is considered “digital alteration.” Pixelated brand names and logos are very obvious in music videos and reality shows, but less so in scripted programs. (See Jeep example in Sarah Connor.)
2) When a product is unbranded during on-set filming, it is physically “obscured.” The process of obscuring often times utilizes objects (ex: gaffer’s tape) to displace products. (See Dell example1 and example2 from NCIS).
To unbrand an automobile, the manufacturer’s emblem on the grill or hood of the car is usually popped out and removed. Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles has great examples of this practice since it had a brand integration deal with Dodge, but utilized a lot of Chevrolet vehicles during chase scenes. (See Chevrolet example1 and example2 in Sarah Connor).
Product Displacements Explained: Part 2 will address product displacements in a more cultural and societal context. Much of the discussion will focus on the use of parody and satire in fictionalized displacements.
Please take a look at my essay “Product Displacements as Catalysts to Engagement.” Also, check out the Product Displacement tumblr for more examples. I have also created a Product Placement Flickr set with a comprehensive selection of screenshots.
There’s a great New York Times article that details the integration process of several products into the plots of top-rated programs. The increasingly popular strategy of weaving brands into shows has drawn attention from the FCC, which is set to decide whether such sponsorship deals should be disclosed during product placement occurances. (See “FCC to Monitor Product Placements“) FCC commisoner Jonathan Adelstein suggests the use of on-screen crawls in a minimum-sized font. What does this mean to IAG? Stefanie Cliffords
I have long stated that sitcoms serve as a venue for media industry criticism because of their use of parody and satire. I believe that Married With Children started this trend by taking swipes at what market researchers claim to know about audiences and the television ratings system. In “The Goodbye Girl,” Kelly takes a job at TV World, a television-themed amusement park. Her job is threatened when she receives “low performance ratings” and three viewer complaints that could lead to “cancellation.” Her boss is named Mr. Nielsen, which is an obvious reference to Nielsen Media Research.
The trend of media industry criticism has continued with the ABC season premiere of Scrubs. At the very end of the episode, J.D. notices an unhappy couple to which Elliot responds, “The Nielsens didn’t like their ratings.” This was a clever reference to NBC dropping Scrubs from its Thursday night lineup. With the media and research industry in flux, I’m sure we’ll be seeing a lot more of this creative commentary.
TNT will premiere its new original series Leverage this Sunday, Dec. 7. The show, starring Timothy Hutton, will be presented courtesy of heavy in-program placements for Hyundai Genesis, DirecTV and Hewlett-Packard. The brands have been described as supporting characters and will help drive the show’s plot, demonstrating the evolving, complex and often times, subversive nature of brand integrations.
Leverage is another indication of the television industry embracing a throwback approach to minimizing production costs by recruiting single sponsors (think Texaco Star Theater). This ad model was popular and successful during television’s early years, but with the proliferation of segmented audiences, it seems extremely risky especially if a program generates less than desirable ratings. General Motors recently partnered with NBC to feature Chevrolet vehicles throughout the short-lived My Own Worst Enemy. The Camaro and Traverse vehicles didn’t play an important role in the show’s plot, but they served as way to amplify the dichotomy of Christian Slater’s characters/split personalities. As Brian Stelter illustrates in this NY Times article, when a product-heavy show is canceled, the marketing campaign is as well. Click here for images of product placements in My Own Worst Enemy.
TNT and its advertisers hope Leverage dodges the proverbial cancellation bullet by attracting an engaged audience through various integrated marketing campaigns. In addition, TNT has launched interactive features like LeverageHQ.com where viewers can join the Leverage team, complete missions related to the plot and compete to win $100,000. Hyundai seems to have a lot riding on the program. Dodge has also sponsored limited-commercial programming with Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, in which its Ram truck has been heavily featured in the show. Click here for images of product placements in Sarah Connor.
via: Commercial Alert
With the unveiling of its iPhone 3G and App Store on July 11, Apple is positioned to influence how companies provide mobile services and software to consumers. Many web-based utilities have been available for free because of ad-supported content, but the launch of the App Store proves users are more than willing to pay for applications such as games, ringtones and GPS. Because mobile media is so new and even the Internet’s ad-model is highly scrutinized and debated, Apple may prevent mobile marketing from ever leaving the ground. iPhone users are extremely media savvy although they make up only 0.5% of mobile subscribers, “Their behavior is a window into the future of mobile media consumption” (via: Nielsen). iPhone users are heavy media consumers with considerable spending and word-of-mouth power.
Even though the use of mobile media increased tremendously in 2007 with 87 million subscribers, marketers have yet to figure out a way to profit from their ads. Mobile marketing only generated $500 million in revenue last year and, many developers do not want to roll the dice and risk coming up craps (via: Time). However, in such a segmented media environment mobile remains an excellent way for brands to increase their reach and consumer engagement. The issue that many marketers fear is the audience resentment, annoyance and backlash that resulted from pop-up ads. In order to keep up with continuously evolving media usage, marketers have to experiment with ways to communicate with consumers. Many people would gladly accept the inclusion of ads for mobile applications that entertain and them make life easier.
Not one to let an advertising opportunity slip away, Google is set to enter the mobile industry with Android. The platform is supported by 30 companies many expect its features to be free and primarily ad-supported. Google has even invited developers to create applications through the Android Developer Challenge, in which the company is offering $10 million in prizes. The Apple approach seems more appealing to developers because creators receive 70% of the sales. A recent Nielsen insight report states, “…leading companies have an opportunity to leverage the capabilities of the iPhone and other media-centric handsets in a way that demonstrates innovation and addresses a market of cutting edge early adopters.”
Mobile marketing presents unique challenges and difficult to measure results, however the monetization model of the landscape may soon be defined by either Apple or Google. Both are companies that consumers hold in high regard and enjoy interacting with and will surely create dynamic applications. By the way, where is Microsoft in all of this?
No that’s not a typo in the blog title. Walmart recently replaced its widely recognizable logo and ditched the star and hyphen. It seems Fox News (along with perhaps other major media outlets) must not have received the memo, because as I began this post, the network flashed a caption that included the hyphen. The retail monster giant has been plagued by media coverage of its business practices and poor treatment of employees and like many companies concerned with their image and reputation, Walmart is attempting to improve its public perception. This is quite a feeble and poorly executed attmept I must say. Branding company Lippincott is reportedly behind the new logo, but this information has yet to be confirmed (via: Brand New). I guess the agency doesn’t want to be associated with this mess. Click here for an artist rendering of a sign to be used at a test store in Memphis.
The rebranding effort will also include the “Save Money. Live Better” slogan, which replaced the long-standing “Always Low Prices” in 2007 (via: Huffington Post). The old navy blue, sans serif logo was introduced in 1992 and used a five-point star as a hyphen–perhaps for patriotic effect. Click herefor a Walmart logo timeline. The color is definitely softer and is meant to represent the company’s supposed commitment to environmental responsibility. The font is no longer in all caps, which Brand New points out, “…helps humanize Walmart with a name that reads more like John, Albert, Sarah or Wilbur.” The new design seems to be very Web 2.0 influenced. Click here to see examples of Web 2.0 typography and let me know what you think.
A press release from Walmart states, “This update to the logo is simply a reflection of the refresh taking place inside our stores and our renewed sense of purpose to help people save money so they can live better,” but does not explain the significance of the asterisk-like starburst. Brand New commenters have brilliantly compared the starburst to an asshole, which pretty much sums up the suites that run the company.
Over the past couple of months WPP Group has made three bids to take over market research company TNS. In May, TNS rejected WPP’s, an ad agency conglomerate, $1.9 billion offer shortly after announcing it was in discussion to merge with GfK (via: Adweek). On July 9 WPP placed a $2.2 billion hostile takeover bid for the research firm. Hours later, TNS ended its merger talks with GfK. GfK is not backing down though and is raising funds to make counteroffer (via: Adweek). And so the battle begins. It should be interesting!
This Spring I’ve noticed a lot of subway posters for Bravo and Oxygen advertising the quality of their audience. I’ve spotted these ads, which are obviously aimed at media planners and buyers, all over the NYC subway system; not just in prime media stations like Prince St. or Rockefeller Plaza. The pictures I’ve posted above were taken at the Forest Hills/71 Ave. station in my Queens neighborhood, which to my knowledge, is not exactly a major hub of planners. Granted New York is the advertising capital of the world, but it’s a bit unusual to see posters touting high engagement and ROI occupying the same space as ads for movies, radio stations and Skechers.
I first became aware of Bravo’s “Affluencer” campaign when I saw a banner for it included in a Jack Myers newsletter, which directly targets media professionals. Soon after, the “Affluencer” ads appeared on almost every major media and marketing-related website just in time for the May upfronts. The neologistic term “affluencer” was coined by Bravo’s president, Lauren Zalaznic, to describe the network’s highly coveted audience of “affluent” and “influencial” viewers. It makes sense for Bravo and Oxygen, which are both owned by NBC, to promote their trend-setting audience, but why did the networks create such public ads for all the world to see?
I don’t think people generally like viewing themselves as rating points or pawns in a greater marketing scheme, but the Bravo and Oxygen ads seem to frame consumerism in an empowering way. Although geared towards planners and buyers, the posters also help the public identify themselves and define their media habits. Being described as “engaged” and “cable’s best audience” does wonders for a viewer’s self-esteem and serves to add a sort of creditability to their taste in television.