From Survivor's notorious brand flag-waving for about $12 million a pop to The Restaurant's naked AmExhibitionism to the Queer Eye for a home-furnishings ad buy, product placement (Texaco Star Theatre, anyone?) is transforming the way Americans experience television.
CBS says a handful of its scripted shows are slated for product integration this season, and The WB has established a "Preferred Partnership" program that gives advertisers sole product-placement rights. (Procter & Gamble took What I Like About You, while Verizon dialed up Smallville.) But dropping brands is child's play compared to the impact sponsor-produced content could portend.
Taking The Restaurant's lead—its production costs were underwritten last year by AmEx, Mitsubishi and Coors Brewing—ABC's drama The Days followed suit. It was bankrolled by the WPP Group's MindShare media shop, which intended to recoup its investment with ad time, product placement for clients and a share of any syndication money. (MindShare and Alliance may become partners if WPP's rumored interest in buying Grey Global comes to fruition.)
Still, not everyone has a mania for "advertainment." The trend has alarmed the folks at the Ralph Nader-affiliated Commercial Alert.
"It's part of the commercial takeover of every nook and cranny of our lives and culture," says Executive Director Gary Ruskin. The watchdog group filed complaints last year with the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Communications Commission, seeking clearer viewer notification of brand embedding.
For more on the brand-wagon rolling through TV town, see Mark Lasswell's 'Brand Me, Baby!' story in the Aug. 23 issue of B&C.