PALM SPRINGS, Calif.—Two upcoming episodes of the ABC comedy Black-ish will feature a prominent guest star. In a two-episode Christmas arc airing later this year, a product placement for the Facebook Portal will play a central role in the holiday antics of the Johnson family.
The brand partnership between Black-ish and Facebook, which Black-ish actor and executive producer Anthony Anderson first shared news of onstage at Adweek’s annual Brandweek conference in Palm Springs, Calif., is the latest of several the show has featured and will mark another major product integration on ABC for Facebook, after its Portal was woven into Modern Family’s Season 11 premiere in September.
Anderson, who directed the Black-ish episodes featuring the Portal, said the experience brought him a new perspective on how these kinds of partnerships work behind the scenes.
“Seeing how the Facebook team interacted with the ABC team and the Black-ish team and how they put it all together, how it brought our family together, I got to see that [process] from both sides and work it from both sides,” Anderson said during a panel with ABC Entertainment president Karey Burke and Disney advertising sales evp of client and brand solutions Lisa Valentino. “It was interesting, as opposed to just trying to help sell this product, but to question it, have questions and answers, and figure out how it’s going to be used, and how it’s going to work for us in an organic way.”
The critically acclaimed Black-ish, created by Kenya Barris (last year’s Adweek TV Creator of the Year), has expanded since its 2014 premiere into a lucrative television franchise with spinoffs Grown-ish and Mixed-ish. It’s been a product placement playground, with companies like Microsoft, State Farm and Procter & Gamble getting their products or messaging integrated into the show’s plot.
Anderson is a paid spokesperson for the pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk, which provides treatment options for Type 2 diabetes (which Anderson has), and earlier this year, the company helped write a script for the show in which Anderson’s character Dre is diagnosed with diabetes.
“It was only natural that they would come to the show and have an organic form and presence in our show in talking about this disease in our community with the lead actor,” Anderson said.
Burke told Adweek the Disney advertising sales team often facilitates requests from brands that want to be involved in the shows but that ultimately, the respective producers decide whether to move forward with an integration. Barris, Burke said, has been proactive in seeking out brand partnerships where they make sense.
“Ultimately, if they feel like something can organically fit with the story, if something makes sense with the world and the characters, they’ll brainstorm and see what comes out of it,” Burke said. “It really starts with the creator and the creative, and goes from there.”
Anderson emphasized that brand partnerships have to “fit organically, so it’s not being forced upon an audience that is watching.”
When Valentino asked which brands he might be interested in working with next, Anderson had some ideas.
“Rolls Royce,” he joked. “I have very expensive taste.”
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