TV programs cash in with product placement

NBC's "Chuck" has kicked butt when it comes to product placement

By Tom Comi

While the creation of the DVR has made life much better for TV viewers, advertisers and networks have had to be creative about how they offset the fact that so many people are bypassing commercials.

This has led to ads being inserted into the actual shows, whether it’s for a scripted drama or a reality program. And the interesting thing is viewers oftentimes don’t even realize they are being pitched on an item.

Fox’s American Idol has been at the forefront of such blatant product placement, with on-air promotions for AT&T, Coke, Ford and Apple’s iTunes. Extreme Makeover: Home Edition on ABC also helps to offset its costs with co-op money and bartering from companies like Sears and Ford. And NBC has also gotten into the game with The Biggest Loser (Brita, 24 Hour Fitness) and The Apprentice (Snapple, Kodak).

In this week’s episode of Hawaii Five-0 on CBS, the camera zoomed in on a boat as the sail was being raised with the name and logo for Hilton. While a 30-second spot might have lasted much longer, the few seconds of airtime Hilton got as part of the actual show could be worth much more.

We really have to tip our hat, though, to NBC’s Chuck for the way it handles its obvious product placement. Instead of trying to bury the ads into their plot, they humorously hammer viewers over the head with them. A perfect example was two weeks ago when Chuck (Zachary Levi) and Sarah (Yvonne Strahovski) were using a borrowed Toyota minivan for a stakeout.

“You know, it sure was nice of Devon to lend us his new Sienna,” he said. “I mean it is the perfect tail vehicle. Think about it, dual screens, Bluetooth, 10-speaker sound system. And it’s so comfy. Oh, did I mention the automatic doors?”

A week later, the show used its platform to promote Subway, which actually helped save the show a few years ago from cancellation. In a conversation between Big Mike (Mark Christopher Lawrence) and Morgan Grimes (Joshua Gomez), they discuss the restaurant’s breakfast menu.

Big Mike: “I’m having a nice time. We brought in Subway flatbread breakfast sandwiches.”

Morgan: “Steak, egg and cheese ones?”

Big Mike: “With chipotle, southwest sauce.”

The bottom line is that you might be skipping all of those commercials with your DVR, but advertisers are finding ways to reach you one way or another. And that ultimately helps each network’s bottom line.


© NBC Universal, Inc. Credit: Trae Patton