Last year, I wrote a column describing the growing phenomenon of product placement in American television. Product placement is increasingly being promoted as a response to the growing tendency of consumers to fastforward through comercials using their vcrs or tivos. If anything, the trend has expanded dramatically since I wrote that column. Monday, ABC announced a deal with MindShare North America, an media company, to develop a system which would allow potential sponsors to weigh in early in the development of new series. This consolidates trends we have already been seeing at the media companies – for example, Coca Cola played a central role in the development of American Idol precisely because they felt its content served their brand well.
The industry has been monitoring early experiments in product placements closely to see how consumers respond. So far, the evidence suggests that consumers are more accepting of product placements than many might have originally imagined, though they prefer them in some genres over others. Early surveys find that they will tolerate placements in reality, game shows, and comedies far more than in dramas or news programs. Most of the evidence suggests that consumers have higher recall of products incorporated into the shows themselves than they do of spots inserted into commercial breaks and that they are receptive to products which seem to fit well into the ethos of their favorite programs. The risks though remain high, since viewer response to product placements which are read as inappropriate tend to be harsher than towards inappropriate commercials. Most consumers, however, express concern when placements seem to compromise the integrity of the program, whether that’s the objectivity of news shows or the entertainment value of other series.ABC seems to be looking for a good match between sponsor and viewer interests, but this step can backfire if the programs it produces feel like little more than extended commercials. This doesn’t have to be the case – as the decade’s long prestige associated with the Hallmark Hall of Fame programing suggests.