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Friday, November 25, 2005

Product placement considered as the alternative to paying for TV episodes (assuming broadcast advertising falls to TiVo): sure, that's all very well and good when you're selling cars. My characters can drive your cars. They can take Tylenol and they can drink Pepsi instead of Coke. And I can definitely work Levitra into an episode. But ING Bank? The stuff for clearing up infections under your toenails? Auto insurance? Some of the stuff they advertise on TV is boring, and a lot of it is kinda gross. I don't think anyone can count on sponsorship and/or product placement to replace broadcast advertising.


That's a very good point. In addition to there being products and services that don't really lend themselves to integration, there's also the issue that certain genres of show don't really play well with product placement (historical dramas and science fiction being just two examples--can you imagine someone trying to shoehorn placements into Rome?).

(Full disclosure: I'm currently an MIT grad student working on a white paper on product placement as an alternative to conventional ads. Mind if I cite you?)

By Blogger Alec Austin, at 5:42 PM  

But certainly that's just one component of the whole financing picture isn't it?

We're rough penciling a budget for a show and we figured out to do a $3M movie in Saskatchewan, all we'd need would be a little over $1M in cash. Product placement, tax incentives, labor incentives, loans, presales, all of it is the jigsaw puzzle that producers have to put together to make a movie.

(Just getting the swag would be good. Now we won't have to always see cans on coffee tables labeled "Beer" or "cola")

Weren't there digital billboards in BLADERUNNER hawking PEPSI or COKE? How about DEMOLITION MAN where all restaurants have become TACO BELL? Sci-fi, horror, and yes, historical drama all plays better when the audience can project themselves into the world you're setting up -- Products and language do that. Example(other than above): Using modern language in the HERCULES and XENA series.

And Alex, you can't come up with a story where someone walks into an IMG bank and tries to rob it? Or a doctor in the ER using a product to help someone? Or a little kid piling down the steps squirting mommy's Massengill over their younger sibling like a squirt gun?

Let's quit bringing up the negative about product placement and let's start coming up with story possibilities, then getting a product to step up...If we're going to bring up the problem then we also have to step up and bring the solution.

By Blogger Bill Cunningham, at 6:32 PM  

Bill: You're quite right that people have done near-future product placement in movies like Blade Runner and Demolition Man (with varying degrees of success, I'd note). I think a fairly good example of such a placement was Audi's creation of the cars for I, Robot: The design costs were shifted onto Audi, the movie got futuristic props for free, and Audi's logo was present but not obtrusive.

That said, product placement in a far-future space opera like Star Wars or Battlestar Galactica would be a stretch, and probably actively painful unless handled with extreme care.

You're also right about there being ways to creatively integrate almost any product into shows and movies, but there are a couple points I'd like to bring up. First, certain products are better fitted to shows of particular genres or which have a particular tone. House, for instance, has had lots Phillips medical equipment in it (natural for a medical show), as well as a variety of TVs and handheld gaming devices. The latter placements work only because they fit House's character and the tone of the show; while you could definitely show kids using Gameboys in the ER, such placements would stick out if they became too common.

Second, many companies are extremely leery of having their product or brand portrayed in what they see as a negative manner, whether or not the message conveyed is actually negative. I gather that not many banks would be willing to see one of their branches being robbed in a movie, which leaves more prosiac placement opportunities, like background placement or (gag) characters trying to take out a loan.

(I probably shouldn't go too deeply into the whole modern language issue, but while I agree that historical shows shouldn't use language that's too archaic, I'd argue that the very campy feel of Hercules and Xena stems at least in part from their going too far in the other direction.)

By Blogger Alec Austin, at 9:27 PM  

Of course you can cite me, Alec. I'm flattered.

In general, you may cite anyone on the Net. If they don't want their opinions broadcast, putting them on the Net is a poor way to hide them.

The blog is actually under a Creative Commons license. You're free to quote, even at length, so long as you cite it and don't rewrite it.

I don't think Massengill would much like the squirt gun notion, and more broadly, product placement is awkward because advertisers only want their products placed in positive circumstances. Of which there are few, drama being conflict.

I think historical dialog should be modern, but avoiding datable slang. See my book for my rant at length!

By Blogger Alex Epstein, at 10:30 PM  

one of my professors has an interesting website about product placement.

By Blogger michael j, at 12:35 AM  

A sitcom I worked on down here in South Africa was sponsored by a bank. Each week we had to work in some dialogue promoting the bank. We tried to go with subtle references - not good enough. The bank got to read the scripts and comment thereon and wanted their brand obviously promoted. And the network agreed - they were getting big bucks from the bank, had to keep them satisfied. So, every week we had some character going on about his XYZ savings account, or her XYZ cheque account and it was hell. That's something that needs to be considered - will mere product placement be enough, or will advertisers insist on attention being drawn to their products?

By Blogger African Den, at 1:09 AM  

While you're both right that THOSE particular companies may not want their products used in a comedic or intense, life threatening situation - the fact is that THERE ARE THOUSANDS UPON THOUSANDS OF PRODUCTS available should the initial product drops out.

This will be especially true when the traditional advertising model dries up. Companies will be clamoring to get their product before the audience's eyes - especially if the product is a major component of the story. Example: James Bond.

I agree that BSG or Star Wars would be a difficult fit - unless you take into account that a company could design products for the show just like they do for the James Bond movies. There are James Bond editions of watches, ties, clothing, phones, pens, etc...

What product placement and sponsoring complete series (which is how TV got funded in the first place - Texaco Star Theater anyone?) is doing is solving a problem we are going have when traditional ad sales goes away. Go to a public place and look at all the products and advertising around you.

Having products out there onscreen provides realism not intrusions.

By Blogger Bill Cunningham, at 1:16 AM  

I think it's worth posting what I said in another recent discussion about product placement (with some mild tailoring).

The big advantage of commercials (even though viewership might be on the decline) is that they can be tailored locally and that's where a not-unnoticeable portion of advertising comes from. You'll see small Ottawa businesses advertised on A-Channel Ottawa (at 50-100 dollars a pop) but these people wouldn't benefit from product placement on a nationally (or internationally) aired show where only a tiny percentage of the viewing audience will care or know what they're selling.

Contrast to product placement which is only valuable for large businesses doing business coast-to-coast.

And advertisers do take steps to make sure that even in a world of VCRs they get seen. Smart ones make sure their logo/trademark will air unmistakably for at least three seconds so that it will be noticed even when fastforwarding. Part of advertising is repetition and even if it's just a logo you're seeing, see it enough and the effect is achieved. Also, when you fastforward, you tend to watch more intently (thus seeing the smart advertisers' brands) because you don't want to miss the show return.

When was the last time you tried to fastforward a show and actually got away without seeing any commercials? Last commercial of the break is especially valuable (unless you're really good at predicting when the show comes back). And honestly, I think this might another reason we're seeing the move to the five act structure. More breaks means more last commercials means more benefit to advertisers.

Advertising on TV has always been hit and miss. Advertisers know people get up, walk around, fast forward, whatever. They just put enough ads on air to make sure you'll see it once in a while. (And you do.)

As for TiVO (or equivalent) and the hot-topic of downloading. I don't think either are big enough yet to warrant a move away from conventional advertising and that by the time they are, they'll probably be obsolete. ;)

Sidebar - little known fact, you can actually download popular commercials using P2P software.

That said, I'm all for product placement (in most cases). I think a show not using product placement (at least subtly) is wasting a good source of potential revenue.

I just don't see it ever becoming a be-all-and-end-all way to finance programming.

To close, I read an interesting article recently about an ad company in Vancouver devoted to product placing. They act as 'agents' for businesses and work to get products in shows in return for offering them free to the show.

Just some more to think about.

A. Mackey

By Blogger Mackey, at 11:59 PM  

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