Advertisers provide the money that pays for our favorite TV shows. But DVRs have made it easy to skip right over them, so advertisers are getting progressively bolder in what they see as their only viable alternative—product placement. What used to be a lingering shot on a Coke can or a box of Pampers is now getting ridiculous. Take, for example, the 50-second commercial for Subway that ground the action to a halt on this week’s Hawaii Five-0:
The New York Times characterizes the sequence as “jarring, disruptive and insulting,” and if I was an avid fan of Hawaii Five-0, I might feel the same way. As it stands, I just found it extremely funny. Nothing says “tropical cop-show cool” like an obese man gorging himself on Subway 12-inches and singing the praises of Jared for a solid minute!
Yes, that scene would definitely qualify as "product placement done badly." But it needn’t always be that way. Here are some other examples of “brand integration,” as the suits call it, done both well, and poorly.
GOOD: Heineken and Mad Men
A show about advertising admittedly has a leg up on the competition, but Mad Men elevates product placement to a veritable art form, weaving it seamlessly into the action and selling us something while simultaneously offering commentary on the act of selling. Not all of the brands on the show have paid for the privilege, but Heineken is one that did. Here is a scene where the “frosty beer from Holland” is featured front and center. Did you feel dirty sitting through it? Probably not. (Click here to watch the sadly unembeddable video on YouTube.)
BAD: Ford Explorer and House
House has experienced some very public budget cuts that led to the exit of one of the show's most popular characters, Dr. Lisa Cuddy. Still, the strain is showing, particularly in this scene in which Odette Annable’s Dr. Adams describes the curve-hugging wonders of the Ford Explorer, accompanied by close-ups of the car's bumper. Not even Charlene Yi wondering out loud why she’s being lectured to about Ford technology can distract viewers from the fact that they're being subjected to a very blatant Ford ad in the middle of their favorite medical drama. Nice try though, Charlene.
GOOD: Apple and Modern Family
Wedged into Modern Family’s amazing first season was an episode in which Phil obsessed over Apple’s then-brand-new tablet device, the iPad. People complained that it felt like a commercial, but the show's writers swore Apple paid them nothing to incorporate the product into the show. Most importantly, it was perfectly in-character for Phil, and the episode was funny. So a placement well done, I say, because I still think Apple had a hand in it.
BAD: Honda and The Bachelor
There really is no basement on shamelessness when it comes to reality TV and plugs; the two go together, hand-in-depraved-hand (American Idol's coke cups and Ford commercials, and Top Chef's GE Monogram-equipped kitchens come to mind). But we'll take any excuse to replay this segment from The Bachelor, in which Ben and his harem ooh and aah over a Honda on-board computer’s “wallpaper option” before hopping out of the car, stripping down to bathing suits, and skiing down a San Francisco street covered in quickly melting snow. Coincidentally, this “date” is dumb enough to melt your brain.
GOOD: Nissan and Fringe
Fox has made no secret of the financial challenges an ambitious show like Fringe poses for the network, especially with the ratings the show's been pulling in. In moments like these, product placement can be a fan’s best friend. (Subway may not have done Hawaii 5-0 any favors, but it helped saved Chuck from cancellation.) A shot of a steering wheel and a navigation system seems a small price to pay for, you know, actually having your favorite show stay on the air. So more, more, more!
What are the best and worst examples of TV product placement you've seen?