Two Guys, a Girl and a TV Set

Three college friends out in the world, filling the void with television…and loving it.

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Posted by Mr. Feeny on August 22, 2009

As is often the case with me, I get side-tracked. I was all geared up to write about Monk after last night’s episode. It’s the final season of a great show, after all. You shouldn’t miss it. But something they did really started to annoy me.

During the first commercial break, a message aired saying that “this episode was brought to you by Sleep Inn.” It didn’t surprise me, then, when the sherriff asked Monk “where are you staying?” and Adrian responded “the Sleep Inn on the highway.” A simple little mention that doesn’t take away from the story. He’s gotta stay somewhere, might as well be a real place. So that’s fine.

But then several other scenes were shot at the Sleep Inn. With big “Sleep Inn” signs everywhere. Including on the tissue box in his room, which was very distracting. It also seemed to hurt the content. Monk, in his usual way, needed cleaning supplies for his room before he’d feel comfortable. But they had to add a scene with a bellboy to clarify that Sleep Inn’s rooms were always clean. We know that. It’s Monk.

I understand that product placement is a way of life now. It’s all over sports. And it’s becoming more and more prevalent in television shows. It’s true that 30 years ago dramas were 50-52 minutes long, yet now there are 10 more minutes worth of commercials. You’d think that would cover any other possible losses of revenue. But DVR has changed that. People are pausing shows to skip commercials, or simply recording shows and watching later so they can fast forward. So the value of a spot has dropped. The only way to assure your product being scene is through placement.

I get that. It’s a necessary evil. But there are ways to do it well — not detracting from or getting in the way of the story — and ways to do it poorly. Mad Men has an easy way to do it. Their advertisers can be their clients. The products don’t get the modern visuals, but how many times did they mention Clearsil, Kodak or American Airlines? But that’s natural. It’s also natural when Jack Bauer or another character on 24 has a Sprint phone. You can clearly it’s Sprint, for one shot, but they dont mention it. They never say Sprint. It’s just there for people to see…and field agents need their phones. So it’s natural. Just like the first instance of product integration on TV: cars. What could be more natural than that?

I even think what Chuck‘s doing somewhat makes sense. To keep the show going for a third season, they got Subway to sign on as a major sponsor. In return, Subway will be in every episode. Now, normally, that’d be a distraction and not make sense. They go to Subway every week? But in this NBC dramedy about secret agents, one of them uses a restaraunt as a cover job. It had been a frozen yogurt shop. Now it will be Subway. It should be fine as long as they don’t spend much time talking about specific sandwiches or deals. Oh, wait…

See things start going awry when you make the product a part of the story, instead of just background scenery. When you can’t see the story through the ad. Another terrible example of this was last year in CBS’s Gary Unmarried. One of the characters brought home KFC’s grilled chicken. You could see all the KFC boxes laid out and he mentioned that’s what he was eating. OK. Obvious, but it hasn’t gotten in the way…yet. They then spent literally a minute talking about this grilled chicken. How it tastes even better than KFC’s fried chicken. No connection to the storyline. Just a commercial, within the show. The writers built their jokes around KFC. That’s backwards. And not funny. It was painful. Of course, this is the same sitcom that kept in about ten “we have tickets to see Danny Gans” references in an episode that aired a month after his death. Nice.

But are these Chuck and Gary Unmarried examples the future of television? Would you rather have that or constant ads somewhere on the screen? Can you think of any other good or bad product placements?

Incidentally, that Subway integration was embraced by fans. They started a “Buy a Subway Sandwich to save Chuck” campaign. And I guess it worked.

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One Response to “This Post Brought to you by…”

  1. Blu said

    I’d like to say that is why cable shows are superior to network shows or vice versa but it just isn’t that anymore.

    There will likely be a backlash against obvious story product placement and the ratings will reflect it which will lead to the show being canceled. So the studio execs will think it wasn’t the product placement that was the problem it was the show itself and add more product placement in their next experiment. Just watch.

    I agree wholeheartedly that there are ways for it to be done well ala 24 as you sited. It is a necessary evil for quality TV in today’s world. I’d rather just wait for the DVD release though and watch shows that way if possible:)

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