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
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.
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.
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!!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I’m sure the above title will be overly used and isn’t that original, but I couldn’t resist. Despite having invested $45 million in a single-source measurement attempt, Nielsen and Arbitron have decided to end their Project Apollo program. The endeavor (another cheesy space reference) began in 2005 with a $20 million investment by Proctor & Gamble and was slated to track 50,000 households. However after supposed “infighting, politicking, brink-teetering and corporate footdragging,” the January 2006 pilot only covered 5,000 homes. Project Apollo was slated to be the first national research service to track media consumption both in and out of the home. Although the information the program could have provided would please any marketer looking to create more effective campaigns, Project Apollo failed to secure enough clients.
It goes without saying that as the media environment continues to become even more complex, cross-platform data will, as Linda Dupree (Arbitron’s Executive Vice President, Portable People Meter, New Product Development) stated, “bridge the divide of marketing strategy and media planning.” The media industry is drastically changing and although Project Apollo was positioned to provide the marketplace with the much coveted single-source data, perhaps the concept was lightyears (sorry, another space reference) ahead of its time. Audience measurement has turned into an extremely competative business, and with the likes of TiVo, DirecTV and Google throwing their hats into the ring, marketers may feel safer investing in the specialized data these companies offer.