When The Commercials Are More Inventive Than The Program

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Bad, boring, plain vanilla TV programs are alive and well this fall. The lack of creativity is astonishing… especially when you consider the money and minds and talents available. Funny though that ingenuity seems to be alive and well when it comes to selling products.
Back in early July we talked about product placement as a way for promoters to get their products in front of consumers. It must be working, or advertisers would not still be using it… and using it more than ever. In fact, there’s a variation… not entirely new but to some utterly sneaky, known as product integration. This is where a product becomes, in a sense, another character on the show.
Think about what the three “American Idol” judges have sitting right in front of them… big as life and presumably the drink of choice of the unlikely trio of dream smashing entertainment veterans. No one ever talks about them, but those cups are there, big as life, impossible to miss.
TV execs consider this normal and natural, an integral part of the show itself. Reality programs like Idol are especially likely to use the product integration technique. Target is a big part of Oprah’s Big Give, Sears is all over episodes of Extreme Makeover, and Glad products are repeatedly touted and used by the Top Chef. But scripted shows, and the creative pros who develop them, are also feeling the product integration push. 
Maybe it’s because of my business… but I’ve noticed that my favorite show, Reaper, features a majorproduct integration. Only in this case, it’s the location where much of the action takes place, The Work Bench… a giant superstore suspiciously similar to a large chain of hardware depots you may have seen.
What marketers hope is that you make an association between a product you see as part of your favorite show, and what you buy next time you’re out shopping. Hearing the ad execs of Mad Men regale us with the virtues of a German beer or having a character drive a particular car is supposed to escape our notice but change our behavior.
TV execs are careful to walk the line between blatantly obvious, without being so subtle that you miss the reference altogether. Of course TV viewers may see the placements for what they are — slick advertising, or as some fear, be too vapid and gullible to notice that they are being subtly sold. 
While the FCC reviews the rules, and perhaps mandates product integrations be clearly marked as such, watchdog groups like Commercial Alert, call for “concurrent disclosure” An immediate message that the product mentioned or shown was a paid for by an advertiser.
Until it all gets sorted out, watch your favorite shows, if you can find something worth watching that is, and see how many product integrations you find. You’ll be surprised… there are a lot more than you think.
And, consider ways to use this technique for your own business advertising. Are there places you might put your product or logo that are natural? Think supplying your product to a local event… providing the copying or design needs or a program… sponsoring a little league team in your town… providing supplies to a school event… 
Hey, when you start thinking like a television executive, the possibilities are endless…
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