If you don’t know what you’re doing, I’d really prefer if you didn’t try it. The other day I was watching “Heroes” and was unfortunately exposed to near-lethal doses of egregious product placement. I now have cancer. Thanks NBC.
The show featured not-so-subtle placements for Scion and Legal Seafood with the worst offender being an ad for Guitar Hero 3. It occurred when Claire (The conspicuously accident prone cheer leader conveniently blessed with healing super powers) goes to a party with her new college roommate to play Guitar Hero 3. And yes, I know it was #3 because they didn’t just show kids playing it, they talked about it. Repeatedly. Over and over. Later, her roommate commits suicide. I can’t say I blame her.
After the third painful blow by Legal Seafood, I paused the video, threw up and was forced to reevaluate the future of modern advertising.
In the past, advertising has only interrupted our TV shows. After that, it was slipping branded crap into them. Now, it’s rewriting them—changing plots and dialogue just to stuff in more marketing messages. The downside to audiences is obvious, but this clearly isn’t good for NBC or the brands being advertised.
As TV networks cannibalize their own shows to make a quick buck in the short run, they’re going to see their audiences drop off even more. It’s 2009 and I have an Internet connection. I don’t need you anymore, NBC.
What should also be obvious is the detrimental impact this has on brands. In a market place crowded with parity products, choosing to advertise in a way that makes me dislike your brand spells death. It doesn’t matter what your marketing message is—if I hate your company, you lose. These brands are literally spending money to make me not want to buy their stuff.
So what’s the solution cynical ad guy?
There’s a lot of ways at this. (The most obvious being staying the hell out of my TV shows, thank you very much.) But with DVR and Internet piracy on the rise, I can see why the networks are turning to this. But if you’re gonna do product placement, I’d say stick to the first rule of advertising: Don’t sound like some greedy corporate shill trying to shove marketing down my throat because that will make me hate you.
(I know that’s not technically the first rule of advertising but it should be.)
And it’s possible. Somehow the writers of Southpark have managed to not just do product placement, but to write entire episodes of their show around products—all without ever once being annoying or exploiting their audience.
Remember the episode where Cartman gets so excited about the pending Wii launch that he tries to cryogenically freeze himself in a snow bank for three months? (Unfortunately, he wakes up hundreds of years later in a future controlled by talking beavers. Sucks for him.)
Southpark often makes product placements a little self-deprecating, which totally kills that nauseous feeling most other shows leave behind. In an episode titled “Guitar Queer-o,” two of the boys start their own Guitar Hero rock band and go though the whole rise to fame and eventual falling out of an actual rock band. The whole time, the show’s writers seem to being asking why Guitar Hero fans don’t just pick up an actual guitar. And there’s also the infamous World of Warcraft Episode where the Southpark kids all take up the game and sit around getting really, really fat. Some stuffy marketers might be surprised to learn that it was a huge hit among WoW Fans. (Don’t believe me? Just ask Wikipedia.)
I think today’s cynical audiences can appreciate it when brands take a break from trying to get them to part with their money for a moment and laugh at themselves. Even if it means leaving your marketing message behind for a moment, getting someone to like your brand more than the next guy’s can mean getting a bigger cut of the market. It’s the difference between relating to your audience and alienating them.