Are we (and our DVRs) to blame for the rise in product placement on television?
That's a question Brian Steinberg explores in his Advertising Age story reporting from the ANA's annual TV and Video Forum.Product placement has been a fact of TV life since the early days, when it was discretely placed in some daytime programming and no-so discretely placed in game shows. Think of "The Price is Right" and "Wheel of Fortune," where products offered as prizes are described in detail, using copy written by the company providing the product being given away and often paying for it to be there.
Product placement within the content of programming began to escalate over the past ten years, popping up primarily in sports and reality programs. Those shows offered advertisers a way to push their products through the ad clutter, where a spot could easily get lost within a 3-minute commercial pod containing six or more ads plus network promos. When most of us think of "American Idol," we probably envision the judges sitting with large Coca-Cola cups in front of them.
But product placement has been creeping into what had traditionally been an ad-free zone -- the content of scripted dramas and comedies. I'm not saying there never was product placement in those shows, but it was rare and in situations where a particular product might logically fit -- whether or not it had been "placed." Some 20 years ago when I was handling p.r. for Jaguar Cars, we provided cars from the press fleet for scenes where a luxury car was needed. We didn't pay for the exposure. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that today Jaguar has to pay for those cameo appearances.
Brian Steinberg writes about the intrusiveness of some of today's product placements, where a product is pushed into situations where it really doesn't fit with the flow of the show. He cites examples like "Chuck" on NBC, where characters end up reciting the slogan for Subway's $5 foot-long sandwich, or the cast of the CW's "90210" praising Dr Pepper.
It's not just about the money, although product placement can add handsomely to the coffers of the networks and the program's production company. But it's really about advertisers finding a way to hit viewers with their messages. It's a way to beat clutter and a way to beat DVRs and on-demand, where it's easy and tempting for us to fly through the commercials.
We, the viewers, have helped create the problem that product placement is trying to resolve for advertisers.
The solution is not without risk to the networks. If they allow the placements to become too blatant and intrusive, will viewers get annoyed and flip to another channel? Or will they just DVR through the placement at top speed?
Or, will viewers simply tolerate hour-long programs that contain 20 - 30 minutes of ads and ads-disguised as program content.
It seems like a risky move for the networks to permit so much product placement. Viewers can all too easily hit the remote or the DVR to watch non-network programs such as the growing number of shows on premium and basic cable that are far superior to most of what the networks are now offering, even without the product placement.