Gladys Santiago

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.

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.

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