Your Brand Here

Recently I was easing back in my La-Z-Boy recliner, watching an episode of USA Network’s Monk on my Sharp TV. I found myself becoming almost hyper-aware of the Lever 2000 brand anti-bacterial wipes that are indispensable to the obsessive, germ-phobic detective Adrian Monk.

As I paced my Karastan carpet in my Hush Puppies, idly sipping a Vanilla Coke and munching on a Hershey’s Almond Joy, I mused about just how ubiquitous such product placements have become. In movies from Fox, Paramount and Disney, on all the channels carried by my AT&T Broadband package—they’re simply everywhere.

Pausing to nibble on a stem of my Kenneth Cole frames, I considered the pros and cons.

On the plus side, marketers such as GM, P&G, Ford, IBM, Microsoft and the like get opportunity beyond the mostly mundane 30-second spots that the typical viewer has learned to tune out. ABC, NBC, CBS, UPN, the WB and the rest open new streams of revenue. Plus, it’s a great way to get around commercial-zapping personal video recorders. The engines of commerce are greased as surely as if Castrol, Pennzoil or Valvoline motor oil had been applied.

Actual products can help define the characters who use them and provide an added level of realism for programs from David E. Kelley, Steven Bochco and Dick Wolf. (Nothing looks more out of place than a box of detergent or a soft drink can with a name and logo devised by the prop department.)

As for the negatives, a certain level of artistic integrity, not to mention story logic, is sacrificed when viewers sense that scenes are written specifically to show off products. (Monk spent an inordinate amount of time perusing grocery-store aisles. And the bag boys were not suspects.)

But the real danger, I realize, typing on the keyboard of my Apple Macintosh, is the annoyance factor. As I watched that episode of Monk, my eye was repeatedly drawn to those damn Lever packages. Positioned for maximum retinal impact so that the name all but popped off the screen, the pale-blue hue of the resealable containers lingered in my vision even after the product was out of view. (A USA Network rep assures me the images are not electronically enhanced.)

All the “placements” in this space are, of course, designed to illustrate just how jarring and distracting this tactic can be.

My humble advice to marketers: Subtlety counts. Resist the temptation to plaster your name all over entertainment content. Such tactics can easily backfire—how long will viewers continue to watch a program, and think well of its sponsors, when advertising gets needlessly intrusive?

Meanwhile, I found the Lever appearances on Monk so irksome, I made a vow: If it’s the only brand on the shelves of my local Stop-n-Shop, Rite Aid, CVS or Walgreens, no matter how dirty my hands are—even if I’m so thoroughly caked in mud and muck that I’ll be banned from polite society—I’ll turn on the heels of my Nikes and walk back to my Chevrolet empty handed.