Is your wallet feeling a little heavy? Are you making fewer calls to Zurich to request wire transfers? Are you going to Whole Foods and thinking, “This was a reasonable amount of money to pay for seven chicken wings?” There could be a reason for your recent financial surplus: there’s considerably less product placement on television shows, leaving audiences with absolutely no idea what to do with their discretionary income.
Variety has a fascinating analysis arguing that advertisers are weaning themselves off of product placements in scripted television, leading to fewer shows in which characters awkwardly hold, use, or make mention of branded products. As an example, the piece points to ABC’s gone-too-soon Selfie, which would lend itself well to product placement due to its riffs on consumer culture. Creator Emily Kapnek told the magazine there was discussion of potential deals, but no corporate partnerships materialized.
According to Variety, advertisers tried overt product placements out of desperation as DVR technology went mainstream, undermining confidence in the power of primetime advertising. Many of those advertisers have since figured out the obvious—buyers are adverse to hard sells, and appreciate them less when they’re shoehorned into scripted television, which is supposed to provide an escape from advertising. Someone definitely made this very argument at a staff meeting a decade ago, only to find themselves invited to lunch less and less often.
The rise of product placement wasn’t an entirely bad thing, though, as creative minds were forced to find narratively satisfying ways to embrace unpleasant, financial realities. 30 Rock turned product placement into an art form, joking about its distastefulness while gladly cashing the checks offered up by such sponsors as Snapple, Soy Joy, and Verizon. Community was equally successful by making Subway an actual character in the show.
The Variety piece said there are still placement partnerships being made, but there’s an emphasis being placed on cleverness and subtlety rather than prominence. So worry not, there will still be televised instructions on what to buy, but they’ll be fewer and slightly less explicit. Besides, the trend only applies to product placements in scripted television. The contestants on Top Chef will still be like, “I know Kara-Yvonne is still upset with me for opening her Kenmore Elite True-Convection Oven during the Quickfire. But if we’re going to win this challenge, we have to set aside our differences and jump into this Honda Crosstour, which combines rugged street style with invigorating performance.”