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Has Product Placement Gone Too Far?

March 30th, 2018   ||    by Susan Kuchinskas   ||    No Comments

Product placement and television advertising have essentially been intertwined since the birth of the industry. But the latest trends point to products becoming more deeply embedded in TV shows, usually as part of the plot lines. Procter & Gamble recently paid ABC to give its public service video a starring role in a July 2017 episode of black-ish, according to Variety.

Let’s call this “plot placement.” It’s a new strategy that leads us to ask: has product placement gone too far?

Proctor & Gamble’s “The Talk” is a short video produced as part of the company’s My Black Is Beautiful initiative. Not only did characters on the show watch and discuss the video, but the TV dad on the show also works as an ad executive on the Proctor & Gamble account.

Advertisers Love Product Placements

Product placements—or “integrations,” which is the preferred industry term—are still going strong. Nielsen says there were 611 different branded integrations during the latest TV season, up from 574 during the 2013–14 season.

Nielsen isn’t asking itself whether product placement has gone too far. It has instead launched a new service, Nielsen Branded Integration Intel, to let TV networks and marketers evaluate the results of this kind of brand exposure, according to Broadcasting & Cable.

By tying products more directly into the plot, brands can garner more of the good feelings generated by characters and storylines.

A case in point is This Is Us. In this year’s Super Bowl Sunday episode, family patriarch Jack dies, wrenching the hearts of fans. The follow-up episode is a montage of happy memories of the family over time, most of them linked to the family’s Jeep Wagoneer. The car is shown as integral to the family’s development and bonding.

“Tying it all together and literally bookending the episode is the car, the communal power of this box of steel, glass, and oil,” said On Milwaukee pop culture editor Matt Mueller, pinning the jeep as a “lovely little vessel for these light and delicate photographs from a life.”

Fans are now clamoring for a Wagoneer revival, according to Country Living.

Fans Don’t Seem to Mind

Has product placement gone too far? Eggo doesn’t think so, nor do fans of Stranger Things. The Netflix show became a favorite thanks, in part, to the sense of nostalgia it evoked. It’s full of cultural references to the 1980s, so it made sense that one of the characters would enjoy—OK, be obsessed with—Eggo waffles. And sales of the waffles jumped 14 percent year-over-year in the fourth quarter of 2017, according to Business Insider.

The Verge pushed back, saying that season two was crammed with every tie-in and marketing opportunity possible, undercutting the show’s charm.

Plot placement is also a way for brands to insert themselves into streaming shows that don’t have commercial breaks, Variety noted. For example, a plotline in Amazon’s Hand of God had a character looking for a new place to live using real estate app Zillow.

Plot placement could have more serious repercussions, claims She Knows. A 2017 General Hospital episode featured a character battling a rare form of blood cancer. Although standard treatments exist, the character is offered a drug that hasn’t completed clinical trials in the real world. Experts worried the episode might persuade patients to reject proven treatments.

Brand Values Get a Boost

In rebuttal to concerns about plot placement, we should remember that consumers focus not only on brand attributes but also brand values. Plot placement gives advertisers a chance to emphasize their values and how they might play out in these fictional but somewhat true-to-life scenarios.

As Variety pointed out, in the black-ish episode, characters were talking not about a product but about a social issue the brand has taken on. The positive critical and viewer response shows that this could be a winning strategy for advertisers.

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