If you’ve seen the Filet-O-Fish commercial McDonald’s airs for Lent, then you’re familiar with “Frankie the Fish” and his infectious jingle. Not being one to miss an opportunity to capitalize on kitschy sentimentality, McDonald’s has released a “Frankie the Fish” novelty frame that was obviously inspired by pop culture sensation, Big Mouth Billy Bass. We’ve seen fictional products from shows be developed into real products; (ex: Tru Blood) Rob Walker calls this “imaginary brands” and Brandweek has described the process as “reverse product placement.” Based on McDonald’s bringing the tacky decoration to market, “Frankie the Fish” garners as much if not more attention to than the menu item being advertised.
I assume that the reverse product placement of the Frankie frame is the result of constant television airings and Internet hype. I imagine somebody purchasing the frame to be ironic or for a cheap laugh. Whatever the reason, the irony and humor of “Frankie the Fish” is fleeting and can probably only be appreciated during Lent, when the ads air frequently. Coca-Cola introduced the red and white branded Santa Claus, whose image is a cultural signifier of Christmas, so perhaps “Frankie the Fish” is the McDonald’s way of creating a holiday mascot with a catchy jingle and all.
The above image was part of a pre-roll ad that aired several hours before Superbowl XLIV. In celebration of the game, Hulu launched a special section called AdZone which will feature Superbowl commercials after they air during the broadcast. Hulu visitors will be allowed to vote on their favorite ad. We all know that the ads are part of the Superbowl’s appeal and people expect them to be grandiose and entertaining. The game is continuously the most-watched telecast of the year and is pretty much immune to time-shifting and audience segmentation, issues that are haunting broadcast networks. The Hulu spot and the whole AdZone concept makes me wonder what kind of viewing behavior is Hulu encouraging?
Live blogging, Tweeting and chatting about shows as they air is becoming part of the viewing experience. For an event that is synonymous to HD, big screen TVs, it seems Hulu is reminding visitors to go online for a more involved, informed and personalized feeling. While Hulu is primarily a streaming video service and, the AdZone section does have some social network-like offerings, such as a message board. The site provides a space for reflection and discussion where viewers can feel actively involved in a cultural event.
What are some products that are so uniquely designed, that the omission of any distinguishable logos has little to no effect on people’s ability to correctly identify the brand? Hummer and Volkswagen Beetles are two products that come to mind. Here are a few others:
Sure, this may be a more archaic model of a Blackberry, but it demonstrates the unique features that make the phone so recognizable. Before the ubiquity of smartphones, this classic Blackberry served as the blueprint of their design. During the 2006 season of Survivor, a contestant found a piece of wood shaped like the mobile device and pretended to send and read emails by using an imaginary scroll wheel.
In the first picture, Pringles canisters are lined on shelves in a manner that the brand name and logo are not visible. Pringles promotes the fact that it comes in a canister as opposed to a bag. This innovative packaging helps give Pringles a pop culture uniqueness that prevents the brand from being just another salty snack indulgence.
When it comes to maple syrup, Aunt Jemima and Mrs. Buttersworth are staples at the breakfast table, but the distinctive bottles help make the brand all the more memorable and fun.
The oft-imitated and parodied VitaminWater bottle solidifies the importance of package design in establishing a brand’s identity. When Glacéau sought to patent the VitaminWater bottle and go after rival companies imitating its design, the company pointed out how consumers may get confused and purchase the wrong product. In a roundabout way, the lawsuit pursuits demonstrate the effectiveness of fictionalized product displacement.
The above image shows the TicTac brand name, but the transparent plastic case that houses the 1 1/2 calorie mints is part of its branding.
Little Trees is notoriously protective over its trademarked tree-shaped air freshener. Even though the product may be well-known to car owners, Little Trees is not exactly a household brand.
Brown uniforms and brown delivery trucks are synonymous with UPS.
Although its design has been modified several times, the iPod, along with the accompanied white earbuds, remains a highly identifiable product.
Like many other Apple products, the iPhone has garnered iconic design status and is capable of promoting the Apple brand without any hint of a logo.
OREO COOKIES & POST-IT NOTES
Even though both Oreo and Post-It are visually identifiable, they are proprietary eponyms and often equated with their cheaper, generic imitators. The above examples, with possibly Little Trees being the only exception, maintain their brand identities and meanings.
Product displacement typically occurs when a studio or broadcaster want to avoid giving a product/brand free publicity. Displacement is also used when companies refuse to allow their brands and logos from being shown, especially in scenes and story-lines that portray their products in a negative way.
There are TWO types of product displacements I have identified:
1) Fictionalized and 2) Unbranded
I use the term fictionalized rather than fictional because it’s a verb and implies/emphasizes that action was deliberately taken to “greek” an actual product or brand. There are many fictional brands used in scripted shows such as, Dunder Mifflin in The Office, Krusty-Os and Duff Beer in The Simpsons, Dharma Initiative in Lost, and of course, Acme in Looney Tunes.
Fictionalized brands differ in that they reference actual companies. For example, the characters in Scrubs frequently gather at a coffee shop called Coffee Bucks. The name, decor, menu and logo of Coffee Bucks are obviously modeled after the Starbucks franchise. Fictionalized product displacements are created by referencing recognizable characteristics of real brands. (See TitTat Bar example from My Name is Earl).
Unbranded product displacements use real products in scenes, but the brand names and logos are deliberately and strategically covered up.
There are two ways to unbrand a product:
1) A product can be unbranded digitally in post-production when traces of its logo or brand name are pixelated, blurred or erased. This is considered “digital alteration.” Pixelated brand names and logos are very obvious in music videos and reality shows, but less so in scripted programs. (See Jeep example in Sarah Connor.)
2) When a product is unbranded during on-set filming, it is physically “obscured.” The process of obscuring often times utilizes objects (ex: gaffer’s tape) to displace products. (See Dell example1 and example2 from NCIS).
To unbrand an automobile, the manufacturer’s emblem on the grill or hood of the car is usually popped out and removed. Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles has great examples of this practice since it had a brand integration deal with Dodge, but utilized a lot of Chevrolet vehicles during chase scenes. (See Chevrolet example1 and example2 in Sarah Connor).
Product Displacements Explained: Part 2 will address product displacements in a more cultural and societal context. Much of the discussion will focus on the use of parody and satire in fictionalized displacements.
Please take a look at my essay “Product Displacements as Catalysts to Engagement.” Also, check out the Product Displacement tumblr for more examples. I have also created a Product Placement Flickr set with a comprehensive selection of screenshots.
There’s a great New York Times article that details the integration process of several products into the plots of top-rated programs. The increasingly popular strategy of weaving brands into shows has drawn attention from the FCC, which is set to decide whether such sponsorship deals should be disclosed during product placement occurances. (See “FCC to Monitor Product Placements“) FCC commisoner Jonathan Adelstein suggests the use of on-screen crawls in a minimum-sized font. What does this mean to IAG? Stefanie Cliffords
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.