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The Emmy’s may be past us, but news and opinions about Sunday’s broadcast continue to catch my eye. I wasn’t able to watch the awards live, but thanks to my old pal DVR and The Fug Girls, I’m in the loop. I was both pleased and not surprised by this year’s winners; shows ranging from irresistibly entertaining (Glee) to funny (Modern Family) to very very serious and seriously good (The Good Wife, Mad Men) have TV buffs talking. But watching the broadcast — sans commercial — got me thinking that the night’s winners should’ve given a shout out to the Don Drapers and Phil Saifers of the world. Sure, it’s their directors, writers, agents and stylists that helped them earn those shiny prizes, but products and their occasional well-placement give the entertainment industry a lot of fuel. I know, I know, there’s the whole “art” thing (and who am I to question the motives of the Kardashian sisters), but let’s be honest: television and commercials go together like…radio and pop songs. And just like “Video Killed the Radio Star,” the invention of DVR, TiVO, live streaming, etc., made it pretty hard to be a commercial. It’s no wonder we see more and more product placement in film and television. Glee‘s Jane Lynch went so far as to plug Adidas (maker of Sue Sylvester’s trademark warm-ups) on the red carpet. While some of my friends find disruptions such as these bothersome, I can’t help but think that smart product placement is the new commercial, version 2.0.
Maybe I’m just blogging out loud here, but it seems as if successful product placement relies on the ABCs; it must be Appropriate, Believable and most importantly, an extension of an already existing solid Campaign.
In idea and execution, product placement has earned its bad wrap. From the painfully obvious examples we see on shows such as American Idol (Coke) and The Biggest Loser (Ziploc), to the less blatant and more realistic: an episode from last season’s Modern Family centered on the then-new iPad (Apple), and Brothers and Sisters has given Trader Joe’s brand cereal and pasta some camera time. Meanwhile, shows such as The Good Wife and Mad Men have done tie-ins with Buick and Honda, respectively. These last examples are the ones that hit home for me and my friends because in addition to being relevant to the shows, they’re believable: we want iPads, we shop at Trader Joe’s, and I can’t speak for all my friends, but if I was in the market for a new car, I could be swayed by a TV character I like. Consumers want to believe in the relevance of a product’s placement into the lives of characters they can (and sometimes can’t) relate to. But more than that, when a brand sends a consistent message — across all platforms — it strengthens the ways in which consumers think about that brand. Does it work? My friends and colleagues at Vertical Marketing Network were split on this. TV viewers — like all consumers — are an educated and savvy bunch. Cynisism aside, though, it certainly can’t hurt.
The ABCs of product placement make for more than good marketing, they make for good storytelling. It’s no surprise that the most successful storytellers won big on Sunday night. And I wouldn’t be surprised if the brands placed within those stories win big, too.