Game Show Product Placement

There was a time, many years ago, when game shows didn’t have to give away prizes to promote brand names. Product placement was a phrase that may have been coined at that time, but had not made its way into the popular lexicon. Instead, a pioneering game show like “The $64,000 Question,” which debuted in 1955, was actually, officially, “Revlon’s $64,000 Question.” No prizing necessary to promote the brand; it was cooked right into the title. This would be the same for 1950’s “Sunbeam presents What’s My Line,” and virtually every other game show on the air at the dawn of television. 1954’s “I’ve Got a Secret” didn’t even have the title of the show in front of its celebrity panel, trading it instead for the logo of its sponsor, Winston Cigarettes!

As the years passed, title sponsorships for game shows dwindled, but the association between brand names and the shows has only grown. In fact, with rare exceptions like Jeopardy (which also awards prizes but far more discreetly), game shows are almost more about winning “stuff” than simply winning. Brand integration is so deeply fused with game shows that virtually anyone who has heard the phrase, “A new car!” would know it was being quoted from an overly exuberant game show announcer. But why has the romance between game shows and brands gone on so hot and heavy for six decades? The simple answer; game shows attract people who want stuff.

Cash or prizes; which one is more desirable? There are really two ways of assessing the allure of the game show for viewers: game play or prizing. Viewers of “play along” shows like Jeopardy, which uses dollars for points, could be assumed to be more interested in testing their minds than being attracted to the green of cash or envy. But viewers of shows with rewards for very basic knowledge or luck, rather than intellectual performance, could be assumed to really just like watching people they can relate to win “stuff.” Natural attrition has provided a pretty clear answer to which choice is more popular. The Price is Right has been on the air since 1972. Contestants, essentially, win stuff for knowing the price of stuff. The show attracts 5.9 million viewers every day! The Match Game, which focuses on funny celebrities, and airs on a broadcast network in prime time, only attracts an average of 2.89 million viewers per week. Let’s Make a Deal, which premiered in its first incarnation in 1963 is still going strong with a premise based on people making deals to trade stuff for bigger stuff!

For products looking for brand integration on TV, game shows are often left off the wish list. This could be as simple as the decision maker not being in front of a television set during the day. Out of sight, out of mind. At HERO, we have found that, more often than not, when we bring up the prospect of a game show placement to a client, their response is, “I never thought of that!” Then we explain the benefits of this kind of exposure, and they’re in.

Game shows offer exposure in a way scripted series rarely do. First, not only do brands appear on the screen on game shows, they are specifically showcased; they are the stars of their scenes. And second, game shows offer an opportunity for brands to receive talking points. Talking points in this context are about ten seconds of brand description, crafted by the brand, and spoken by the show’s announcer. As anyone who has ever seen a game show knows, when a brand appears it is uniformly met with almost hysterical fervor. There may be no better recipe for fostering desire from the millions of consumers sitting in front of their TVs.

There is yet another bonus to providing prizing for game show; if the prize is not won, the item is often used on screen again, generally without additional obligations to the brand.

Considering the practicality of product placement in the larger sense can be very challenging for brands. Not just because it’s often a new medium that they’re exploring, which means exercising caution is required, but also because there are so many possibilities for placements. The brand could appear in the set of a store, a character’s home or even as a sign on a wall. Even though we all have a pavlovian greed response to the term, “A new car!” we may not consider that our product or brand could be that new car. A game show gift may not be the only way a brand wishes to be identified on screen, but it should certainly be one of the options they weigh.

(Note: Steve Ochs has worked on several game shows including the $20,000 Pyramid, Chain Reaction, The Meow Mix Think Like a Cat Game Show and was a Co-creator/co-Executive producer of National Lampoon’s Funny Money on the Game Show Network)