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
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.
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!!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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]
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.
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?
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!
It seems Wall-E has taken product placements to new heights with its many references to Apple. Pixar, which made the animated film, used to be owned by Steve Jobs (via: NYT’s “Wall-E: An Homage to Mr. Jobs“. There are many subtle and clever nods to Apple products and SlashFilm.com is currently keeping track of them. Click here to add to its growing list of Easter eggs.
Click here to view Mediaedge:cia’s CEO, Lee Doyle discuss the growing trend of consumers canceling their cable service due to hard financial times. During his presentation at the ARF conference, Doyle notes that “economically challenged” viewers are turning to online video entertainment and no longer consider cable television as a necessity. He goes on to state that a whopping 40% of commercials are not being fast-forwarded by consumers with DVRs and attributes this to Americans’ “conditioning” to advertisments.
Doyle pretty much described my television viewing habits to a T. I watch a lot of television and have subscribed to digital cable and DVR service for years. Recently, however, I cancelled my Showtime and Starz! subscriptions to save money. I found that between watching videos online and catching up with my recorded programs, I just didn’t need the extra channels and expense. Also, skipping ads gets to be kind of annoying and often times I even forget that I’m not watching live TV. I guess I’m one of those “passive” viewers that Doyle described.