Place My Product, Please

CBS Chairman Les Moonves recently discussed how he sees a significant increase in television product placements on the horizon.  He references selling rights to everything from the brand of car driven that to the brand of orange juice characters drink.  Interestingly, it wasn’t long ago that product brand names were being obscured because shows didn’t have the rights to use them.  We all remember seeing cereal boxes and soda cans with tape over the names or some other alteration to the packaging.  Now, those very same brands are paying to have their product names shown.

I actually think it makes perfect sense, as long as viewers are treated with respect.  Let’s face it, television ads are becoming less and less effective and more and more people will be skipping ads through their DVR’s in coming years.  If I were a television advertiser, I would much rather have my product used by a popular TV character than lost amidst a sea of 30-second spots.  The trick is, it has to be natural.

For instance, I recall an episode of Alias where the good-guys were chasing the bad-guys and the good-guys said something like, “There they go…in the F-150.”  It was so blatant and silly that my wife and I both laughed out loud because that’s not what someone in that situation would say.  They would say, “There they go, in that blue truck.”  I also recall an episode of The West Wing that had three or four blatant product placements, only two of which I even remember now.  One was where one character told the other to “Google” someone to get more information on them and another character was called “Mr. Moto” (a la Motorola’s recent ad campaign) for not being willing to part with his cell phone (or pager) for a few minutes (or something like that???).  While that may be how people really speak, it was just a little too in-your-face.

Viewers are smart and the subtleties of using real products in a show makes that show more realistic.  But, if those products are thrown in people’s faces, they will resent it and the result will likely be the opposite of what advertisers want.  So, to promote a brand of mobile phone service, don’t have a character say, “Call me on my Verizon Wireless phone.”  Instead, have the phone simply ring with the ringtone we are used to hearing from that provider’s ads and their phones on the street.  People will get it.  In other cases, naturally show the screen of a website someone is using, or the logo of the car they are driving, or the packaging of the beverage they are consuming.

I believe there is huge potential for the effective use of product placements to be lucrative for both the advertisers and the television industry.  They just need to be subtle, natural and in context so as not to abuse the very viewers advertisers are trying to persuade.