US brands turn to product placement

03 August 2009

NEW YORK: Brands including Subway, Dr. Pepper and Vitaminwater, owned by Coca-Cola, are increasingly turning to product placement in the US as they seek to establish new and creative ways of connecting with consumers beyond traditional advertising.

Vitaminwater, Coca-Cola's "enhanced water" brand, has recently used the show Gossip Girl, broadcast on the CW, as a promotional vehicle.

During the second season's opening episode, the product was served at a party, and then discussed at various points throughout the rest of the programme.

Alison Tarrant, the CW's svp of integrated sales and marketing, argued the deal between the network and the Atlanta-based firm helped fund an expensive piece of filming in the Hamptons, and thus delivered plot benefits to viewers.

"In this economy," she argued "the only way it was going to be possible for the shoot to be shot on cost would be to bring in somebody to help offset those costs."

However, Tarrant added that people watching Gossip Girl were unlikely to be offended by this sort of strategy, which is a frequently-used tool in the US television industry.

"Our audience is aware that product placement exists and that advertisers are probably paying for some of the more branded mentions that they see in the body of the show," she said.

"I think the audience gets it, but in many cases we look to give the audience value back for their tolerance of it."

Subway, the restaurant chain, has also agreed to a promotional deal related to NBC's Chuck, which is now expected to feature both the company's food and other types of placement.

During Chuck's previous run, the sandwich company's products were integrated into two separate episodes, with a recurring character also frequently making reference to "$5 footlongs", one of the best-known items on its menu.

Dr. Pepper, the carbonated beverage brand, has similarly helped shape an edition of 90210, also on CW, where characters argued it was a must-have for a road-trip they were going on.

"As the media landscape continues to become more fragmented, we do believe it is necessary to find creative ways to reach consumers and maintain relevance," said Elena Zanolin, entertainment marketing manager of Dr Pepper.

A tie-up between ABC and Paramount Pictures also resulted in the USS Enterprise, from the latest Star Trek film, appearing through the hole in the letter "o" during the credits of Lost.

Geri Wang, ABC's svp of primetime sales, said the network is "open" to forging such deals in the future, but would be "very, very selective."

Other mediums have also started using this sort of marketing ploy, as demonstrated by an innovative collaboration between the New York Times, the newspaper, and Intel, the semiconductor manufacturer.

A digital version of the news title's front page appeared on its online homepage, dated from 2040, and showing the headline "President converses with dolphin, develops new environmental plan."

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Data sourced from Boston Globe/AdAge; additional content by WARC staff