Gladys Santiago

Morgan Spurlock’s The Greatest Movie Ever Sold

Posted in Advertising, Branding, Marketing, Media, Product Placements by Gladys Santiago on January 17, 2011

The Greatest Story
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.

 

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FatBurger Transforms Into Bob’s Burger

Posted in Advertising, Branding, Media, Product Placements, Television by Gladys Santiago on January 9, 2011

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

Punky Pong: Defictionalizing a Fictionalized Product Displacement

Posted in Advertising, Branding, Marketing, Media, Product Placements, Television by Gladys Santiago on June 14, 2010

Punky Pong - Bones - The Gamer in the Grease
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.

Product Displacement in Time Square Billboards

Posted in Advertising, Marketing, Media, Product Placements, Television by Gladys Santiago on April 27, 2010

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!!

Not Used as Intended: Product Displacement in ‘Nurse Jackie’

Posted in Media, Product Placements, Television by Gladys Santiago on February 7, 2010

Sweet'N All - Nurse Jackie - Sweet-N-All

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.

Visualizing Brand Mentions Using Hulu’s Captions Search

Posted in Advertising, Branding, Product Placements, Television by Gladys Santiago on January 17, 2010

Jamba Juice - 30 Rock - Klaus and Greta

The smoothie franchise, Jamba Juice was mentioned several times during the “Black Light Attack!” episode of 30 Rock.  As Jenna and James Franco work out the details of making their faux relationship believable, Franco mentions having a product placement deal with Jamba Juice.  It’s unclear if Jamba Juice actually paid to be mentioned in 30 Rock, but the show is notorious for blatantly calling out its sponsors in clever, tongue-in-cheek ways.  Regardless, the Jamba Juice mentions would probably register with many viewers and be monitored by services that track product placements.  Auditory brand integration are designed to resonate with viewers like their visual counterparts.      

Typically, brand mentions have only been coded and tracked in terms of mention counts and who uttered the brand name.  There’s nothing inherently visual about tracking brand mentions compared to on-screen integrations that can be timed for their visual duration and image-captured to analyze how much space a brand name or logo occupies within a scene.  One of the goals of my product placement Flickr set is to annotate where branding is featured during product placement occurrences.  In my set, the size of the Flickr annotations directly corresponds to the size of the branding displayed.  

Ever since Hulu introduced Captions Search, I’ve been trying to figure out how to utilize the feature to express brand mentions visually.  I’m fond of the “Heat Map” display, which is capable of outlining how far into a program a brand is mentioned.  A quick glance at the above Heat Map for Jamba Juice shows that the company was mentioned within the first five minutes of the episode and then again during the second segment.  If Jamba Juice sponsored the show, they would probably want their brand name to be scattered throughout all four segments of the show to ensure audience recall and engagement.  Heat Map can easily assist a media planner or product placement broker in ensuring that a brand mention is reinforced by subsequent mentions.  

Captions Search results are displayed as textual dialogue, which is makes creating a visualization or infographic difficult.  As Captions Search evolves from its beta form into a more dynamic feature, perhaps Hulu will be able to offer results that reads like a script and details character lines in a clearer manner.  According to my prior research on product placements, which characters interact with or mention a brand affects how audiences respond to integrations.  I noted above which characters mentioned Jamba Juice and even noted that brand was mentioned during a joke.  

If Captions Search were capable of conducting some sort of semantic analysis, highlighting areas of irony or humor would be very beneficial since people are more likely to remember a brand mentioned during a line of dialogue that made them laugh.  Perhaps tones in dialogue can be color-coded with humorous lines highlighted in yellow and serious, dramatic exchanges displayed in blue.  I’m an incredibly visual person and am a lover of words so I’m really anxious to begin organizing and analyzing Captions Search’s data on a graphic level.  I’m open to any tips on how to go about it or to program/application suggestions that might be helpful.

Subtle “It’s Complicated” Promotion on “30 Rock?”

Posted in Advertising, Product Placements, Television by Gladys Santiago on January 17, 2010

Meryl Streep - 30 Rock - Black Light Attack!

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!!    

Diminishing Returns: When Product Placements Compete with Hulu’s Banner Ads

Posted in Advertising, Product Placements, Television by Gladys Santiago on January 17, 2010

Toyota vs. Chevrolet - Hulu

The above image features a scene from ABC’s Modern Family where Mitchell returns home with his adopted daughter, Lily.  Although, Modern Family, much like many other scripted ABC programs, relies heavily on product displacement, the Toyota logo on the back of Mitchell’s car lingers for a few seconds while a Chevy Malibu banner ad is displayed on screen. I don’t remember if a 30-second spot for Chevrolet ran as I watched the episode, but based on my Hulu experience, I’m pretty sure one did. I tend to watch shows in “fullscreen mode,” but naturally minimize my screen to the normal web view for a number of reasons. I would be interested in knowing what percentage of Hulu users watch shows in fullscreen or toggle between various views.

Regardless of my curiosity, I find it interesting that two competing car companies would appear simultaneously on the same screen. I’m not sure if the Toyota occurrence was a paid-for placement, but regardless, the logo is visible and probably decreases brand recall and awareness of the Chevy Malibu ad. Typically, during TV ad purchases, advertisers and networks go through great lengths to ensure that ads do not air during programs that feature heavy integrations of a rival brand. For example, you’re never going to see a commercial for Pepsi during Fox’s Coca-Cola-inundated American Idol. Including ads for competing companies within the same, program, commercial pod, scene or frame cannibalizes viewer attention and blurs brand messages.

While Hulu is primarily a video content hub, the company should begin encoding its content with information that might prove useful to advertisers. Annotating or tagging segments/scenes that contain brand names or logos can help determine which “program moments” deliver better ad performance. Pairing a Chevy Malibu banner ad with a scene that features a Toyota vehicle used by principle characters is just a bad idea. To me, Hulu is rich in data. I absolutely love the Captions Search feature and know that the data it generates will likely make Hulu more appealing to advertisers. I see the annotating/pinpointing of product integrations working on a backend level and possibly even being provided by the content owners themselves (ABC, NBC, Fox…). If a brand is integrated into a television show, it makes sense for that same brand to be integrated into a viewer’s Hulu experience as they enjoy their content.

Lightyear: Actual Product Displacement Partnership

Posted in Advertising, Branding, Marketing, Product Placements by Gladys Santiago on December 26, 2009

Lightyear - Cars

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.

Jack Donaghy’s Vatenné Tie

Posted in Product Placements, Television by Gladys Santiago on December 14, 2009

Vatenné - 30 Rock - Secret Santa

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.

Does ’30 Rock’ Promote or Mock Windows?

Posted in Marketing, Media, Product Placements, Television by Gladys Santiago on October 27, 2009

Microsoft Windows - 30 Rock - Into the Crevasse
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.

Generic Cereals = Real Life Product Displacement

Posted in Advertising, Branding, Marketing, Product Placements by Gladys Santiago on October 16, 2009

Honey Nut - Modern Family - Pilot
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?

Ghost Whisperer’s Alt World 2: A Case Study on Product Displacement and Engagement

Posted in Media, Product Placements, Television by Gladys Santiago on August 22, 2009

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.

Product Displacements Explained, Part 2: Functions of Parody & Satire

Posted in Product Placements, Television by Gladys Santiago on July 3, 2009

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).

Works Cited
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

Industrial Purposes of Unbranded Product Displacements

Posted in Advertising, Branding, Product Placements, Television by Gladys Santiago on May 25, 2009

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.

An Analysis of 30 Rock’s Slanket Occurrence

Posted in Product Placements, Television by Gladys Santiago on May 16, 2009

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 Displacements Explained: Part 1

Posted in Media, Product Placements, Television, Uncategorized by Gladys Santiago on April 16, 2009

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

Fictionalized
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
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.

TNT Going Commercial-Free with Leverage’s Product Placements

Posted in Product Placements by Gladys Santiago on December 6, 2008

 

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

Apple Product Placements in Wall-E

Posted in Media, Product Placements by Gladys Santiago on July 1, 2008

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.       

FCC to Monitor Product Placements

Posted in Advertising, Product Placements, Television by Gladys Santiago on June 24, 2008

The Federal Communications Commission may begin taking steps to regulate the growing use of product placements on television shows.  According to a World Advertising Recesearch Center report, the FCC wants broadcasters to make it easier for viewers to know when they are being marketed to.  The number of “embedded advertisments” increased 13% in 2007 (via: Reuters) and are commonly seen as a way to reach elusive viewers in a TiVo-filled world.  Currently, programs are only required to disclose sponsors at the end of show, to which commisioner Jonathan Adelstein states: 

  “You shouldn’t need a magnifying glass to know who’s pitching you. A crawl at the end of the show shrunk down so small the human eye can’t read it isn’t really in the spirit of the law.”  (via: WARC’s “FCC TO REVIEW PRODUCT PLACEMENT RULES“)

A strick ruling from the FCC could require programs to post notices before or after a product placement occurance.  Its unclear how this will be done without disrupting show content or if it will even be welcomed by viewers.  It’s no secret that most marketers have taken to product integrations to improve brand awareness and receptivity.  While the inclusion of real products/brands adds to a program’s verisimilitude, certain tactics can be rather deceptive.  

Product placements are real hot-button issue and marketers and studios have come under fire from not only the FCC and watchdog groups, but the Writer’s Guild of America as well.  For years, the WGA has asked the FCC to regulate the use product placements because it views the weaving of ads into storylines as unethical and impedes on the creative process. 

I worked for a company that monitored engagement with product placements in prime-time shows and have written extensively about the topic in the past.  I can’t wait to see how this develops.          

TBS Promo Invades Your Space

Posted in Advertising, Product Placements, Television by Gladys Santiago on June 21, 2008

During a recent episode of Family Guy on TBS, Bill Engvall appeared on screen with a remote control and paused the show.  Engvall then proceeds to promote the new season of his show as Family Guy remains frozen in the background.  What the audience didn’t know was that when Engvall appeared, the show had begun a commercial break.  In the past, TBS has wonderfully and seamlessly integrated commercial content into its programming, (the “Very Funny” ad campaigns, for instance) but this time the cable network sought to be deliberately intrusive. 

In his Ad Agearticle, Brian Steinberg states:

TV networks have gotten extremely aggressive with the bottom corners of the screen. Some cable outlets even let pieces of promotional flotsam, known in the industry as “snipes,” rise from the corners and take up the bottom third of the TV screen. More recently, however, these animated promos have become decidedly more intrusive, blocking action as it unfurls on the screen or even competing with spoken dialogue.

Giving the spastic nature of Family Guy, the promo may not annoy people as much as it would if had aired on a show such as Lost, which commands a significant amount of audience attention.  I think viewers will be seeing a lot more aggressive snipes in the future, especially on syndicated shows in reruns where broadcasters may assume that they are already familiar with the content and plot.  The sneaky TBS tactic has already generated quite a bit of discussion, but too bad the effort was wasn’t on such a sub-par show as Bill Engvall.