Monday, August 09, 2021

Product placement

Here’s a FQ that became a DP (daily post).

DBenson asks:

Did you ever get asked/pressured to do a star informercial episode?

Not that specifically, but we have had our brushes with product placement, a similar animal.  

Back in the ’00’s there was a company that tried to marry writers with sponsors.  The trade off was the sponsor would pay for the show in exchange for say a scene in every episode that took place in their store.  The shows would then be offered to networks for free.  The sponsors would pay for them instead of the network, which was a great incentive.  

We were approached to create a series with this arrangement.  We passed.  They said, “All you need is to do one scene in (for example) Home Deport.”  The trouble is — what if during the week we decided the Home Depot scene didn’t work or wasn’t needed?  We’d still be obligated to do some scene in Home Deport that lasted a certain amount of time.  

That’s just bad story telling.  And we didn’t want that obligation.  It felt like a deal with the devil.

Apparently, we weren’t the only ones to pass on that opportunity.  The company never really caught hold and within a couple of years faded away.  

Our only other brush with product placement was the scene where Rita Wilson drinks a Coke in VOLUNTEERS.  But as I’ve written about several times, that scene came out of research and was written several years before Coca-Cola owned the studio that made the movie.  But boy, did we take shit.  


Mike said...

"They said, “All you need is to do one scene in (for example) Home Deport.”"
Home Deport? That's easy.
Int. Taco Bell. Enter several armed men wearing ICE jackets.
You could make it a running joke.

SummitCityScribe said...

Anytime I hear someone say "Time is money", I think back to that hilarious exchange in Volunteers between Ernest Harada's Chung Mee and Tom Hanks' Lawrence Bourne III:

Chung Mee: Opium is my business. The bridge mean more traffic. More traffic mean more business. More business mean money. More money mean more power.

Lawrence Bourne III: Yeah, well, before I commit any of that to memory, would there be anything in this for me?

Chung Mee: Speed is important in business. Time is money.

Lawrence Bourne III: You said opium was money.

Chung Mee: Money is Money.

Lawrence Bourne III: Well then, what is time again?


Rory W said...

Speaking of sponsorships, when you were a baseball announcer, did you get approached to do local radio or TV ads?

I was listening to the radio broadcast of my hometown Cleveland baseball team when Jim "Rosie" Rosenhaus did an ad for Rose Pest Control and was wondering how sponsors approach announcers?

Especially in the minor leagues where, I assume, announcers don't yet have agents.

Do you just get a random call from someone saying, "Hey, do you want to do an ad for Neverwet Basement Waterproofing in Syracuse, NY?"

Darwin's Ghost said...

Home Deport is every Republican's wet dream.

N. Zakharenko said...

OK -

So how much is Coca Cola paying you to display that photograph?

Or did you drink it while writing this entry - for research purposes.

(Unless you're in top secret negotiations with Coca Cola to take over this blog?)

Joyce Melton said...

Back in the 1980s, I wrote a comic strip script called "Quest and McQuarry" that involved product placement as its reason for existence. The strip was to run in weekly tech journals and feature the products of a certain company as solutions to the problems a starship ran into. I wrote thirteen scripts and my brother did the character design and rough layouts, but we were paid for what we had done and the project was canceled with no explanation. Ah well. It was still one of my better paydays consiidering how much actual writing was done.

Brian said...

If you want to use a product to make a scene more realistic (like you did with the Coca Cola), whose, if any permission do you need to get? It always seems more realistic when somebody in a bar orders or is drinking a Bug Light for example.

DBenson said...

In the opening scene of "The Vagabond" (1918), Charlie Chaplin enters a saloon with the Falstaff logo prominently displayed on the swinging doors. It's a little startling -- the brand lingered to 2005 and feels like a modern intrusion here. Considering that the scene that follows is not exactly a paean to the pleasures of brew, will guess that it wasn't paid placement.

What about studios/networks/producers promoting their own products? Guest stars playing themselves as a character's sudden Favorite Star; dialogue about concerts or albums by a performer under contract; visits to corporate-owned theme parks; etc.

sanford said...

I don't recall seeing Ken mention this but he is the guest on Sabrcast today. You can listen here or the platform of your choice. A lot of baseball since it is a baseball podcast. They do talk a little about his real career.

Philly Cinephile said...

Could a business such as Home Depot commission a sitcom set in a Home Depot, or would that be crossing a line? (I admit that I know nothing of the ethics, or lack of ethics, involved with product placement...)

DBenson, ABC went through a period of mandating that many of its shows film episodes at Disney World. ROSEANNE (and Roseanne) complied, but followed up with an episode in which David is hired to work in a theme park with a cult-like corporate culture.

Now I'm wondering if there was a "Thighmaster" episode of STEP BY STEP...

Brandon in Virginia said...

Every time I've seen product placement integrated into a TV show, it always comes across as clumsy and unnatural. One that comes to mind is an episode of The Sopranos where Tony buys AJ a new Nissan Xterra. The way he rattled off the features, I thought he was channeling Rod Roddy from The Price is Right.

The Hawaii Five-O reboot featured an equally cringy Subway placement.

Kirk said...

There's a 1930s Warner Brothers cartoon in which the groceries in a store come to life, and you do see some real-life products. For instance, the arm on an Arm and Hammer baking soda box hammers the head of a gorilla that escaped from a box of Animal Crackers. In a similar vein, there's another WB cartoon where a magazine rack comes to life, and the villain is sentenced to Life.

But I don't think either one of those things was product placement in the sense of a company paying to place its wares in a scene. The cartoons director (most likely Tex Avery) was simply satirizing a consumer culture that just then was beginning to gain momentum, even as the Depression raged. Ironic that something that starts out as satire ultimately gets coopted by the very thing it's satirizing.

Mike Doran said...

I recall a Murphy Brown episode, from late in the original run.
There was a New Guy who'd been added to the FYI cast, against the wishes of the others on the show.
Almost immediately, the NG booked an endorsement deal, which sent Jim Dial (Charles Kimbrough) into high indignance:
"Well, when we're up to our hips in ads for long-distance carriers, headache remedies ..."
I can't recall the whole speech, but 'Jim Dial' mentioned at least four different advertisers - who employed Candice Bergen, Charles Kimbrough, Faith Ford, and Joe Regalbuto as their on-camera faces.
The studio audience caught the reference; the laugh was accompanied by loud applause.
We in the audience aren't dummies, you know ...

Griff said...

The 1933 W.C. Fields short "The Pharmacist," produced independently by Mack Sennett for Paramount release, impressed me when I was young. The art director had completely stocked the drugstore set with real products of the day. A major studio production of the day would probably have used fictitious or dummy products as props and decor, but the short's setting really looked like a working pharmacy.

Even by the time I first saw the short -- decades ago -- many of the actual products seen in the film had vanished from the modern marketplace. But you could prominently see some promotional material for Curtiss' Baby Ruth and Butterfinger candy bars... and the logos and design of the candy bars' wrappers back in the day was almost identical to the design used by the company in the early '70s. Come to think of it, that design is pretty much the same in 2021!

I want to say it was the Norman Lear shows that really pioneered the use of actual products in television shows, but I think this was for the sake of verisimilitude and comic effect, not because of "product placement."

[The classic discourse regarding "waxy yellow buildup" on Mary Hartman's floor in the "Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman" pilot is perhaps the most famous reference to an advertised product on any program.]

Mike Doran smartly remembers that sharp observation by Jim Dial about commercial spokespeople on "Murphy Brown." Very funny at the time. Though I wonder whether younger viewers would have any idea what the joke was!

tavm said...

Kirk, that 1930s Warner cartoon is called Billboard Frolics.

JoeyH said...

Efrem Zimbalist Jr. and his buddies at "The FBI" always drove Fords.