Gladys Santiago

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.

Sitcoms as Venue for Media Research Industry Criticism

Posted in Television by Gladys Santiago on January 7, 2009

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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.