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.

 

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.

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.

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.