Gladys Santiago

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.

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.

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