The future of product placement? - kenny chung : the frequency

the frequency a kenny chung blog

May 22nd, 2009
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The sandwich chain Subway may be solely responsible for the NBC Show ‘Chuck’ staying on the air, speculates this article.

Subway has basically become the official sponsor of the show. Entering into a deal with Subway may deter the cancellation of the spy comedy despite less-than-stellar ratings. And the payoff? Prominently displaying Subway sandwiches within the scene settings and also shameless mentions within the dialogue itself.

Is this the future of product placement?

Well, that’s an inherently flawed question. This sort of hyperreal advertising is already happening in the present. Everyone’s aware that Simon, Paula and Randy (and Kara) all only drink one brand of carbonated beverage. The Transformers movie franchise is the perfect platform for GM’s highly transparent product placement campaign. Viewers of the CW hit ‘Smallville’ can tell you exactly which model of Toyota the show’s characters love to drive and their favorite brand of chewing gum. Even Terminator Salvation, set in a nigh-apocalyptic future, featured a particular SUV blown up by robots. In the scene immediately following the dust settling, viewers had to try hard to ignore the grill of the vehicle on the ground, still proudly displaying the JEEP logo. There was another scene where survivors gathered at a gas station/former convenience store. The camera deliberately panned upward to show a much weathered 7-ELEVEN logo.

Is this the future of product placement?

Will money soon influence art to the degree that the audience will not be able to ignore it? In the age of TiVo and online viewing, commercials have certainly lost their impact. Is the only solution to make TV shows into ads themselves? When do we reach the tipping point? Back when product placement wasn’t as common, it was easy to tell which companies paid to have their goods deliberately placed onto a set. And then it began happening more and it became harder to tell which were the result of natural dialogue (i.e. saying ‘iPod’ instead of ‘mp3 player’) and which were being paid for (ironically, the makers of the Harold and Kumar series did not have a deal with White Castle). So what happens when it becomes too evident that product placement is happening? Will it just stop working altogether? Will viewers resent that brand? Or will they grow to love the product as if it were their own child?

Only time will tell.

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