Product Placement Overkill

The increasing ubiquity of DVRs is posing a serious challenge to network and cable ad sales departments as more and more viewers fast forward through the very commercials that create their profits. To remedy the situation, the networks have been integrating brands into the shows. These integrations often require fees along with the purchase of commercial time.  This means that when Brand X purchases commercial time on the network, the network attempts to guarantee Brand X’s exposure to the viewers whether the commercials are fast forwarded past or not, via in-show integrations.  Sounds perfect, yes? Maybe not.

Most viewers have no objection to product placements when they’re organic and natural. For example, the dudes on Workaholics would totally eat Panda Express, so the appearance of a take-out carton is inoffensive (in fact, it may be the only inoffensive thing on Workaholics!).  But overkill could actually be detrimental to a brand by making a viewer feel more marketed to than entertained.

One perfect – yet old – example appeared during the sitcom The Office. Dwight, one of the lead characters, leaves his job at Dunder Mifflin, the show’s fictitious paper supply company, and lands a job at the not at all fictitious, Staples, the office supply store.  Staples, for their part, allowed the writers to make hay with their brand, casting their red polo-shirted sales associates as geeks.  Viewers could easily suspend disbelief and enjoy Dwight’s new gig without feeling the long arm of marketing reaching out to their couches.  The set up was really fun… until the commercial break when the Staples spot came on. Now the viewer can easily reverse engineer their viewing experience and realized they’ve been duped.

Staples may have been well-advised to divert their advertising buy to another popular show on the network and let The Office integration operate organically.  The end result could have been more positive and a better use of budget.