Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Product Placement

Last night I saw an episode of 'Bones' that was an excellent look at the future of advertising.  Half of the plot of the episode was based around the successful attempt of three of the characters to hold their place in line for the 'Avatar' movie while still doing their day's work.  This worked fairly well, and it was a scenario that made sense, given the characters.

The episode generated some complaints online (what doesn't?), but in my opinion it is the least intrusive type of advertising imaginable.  I am guessing that the reason people complain about these types of product placement is because they are in the habit of using technology to completely skip the standard advertising.*  However, it is completely impossible to skip product placement.  If you wanted to skip this ad, you would miss about a third of the show.

We will see more and more of this in the future.  It is inevitable.  The old way of doing commercials is dying.  It is just too easy to separate them from the show.  People will skip them on DVR's, or they will upload them to the Internet with the commercials cut out.  Product placements deeply embedded into the content of the show are the only way for the sponsor-driven business model of entertainment creation to survive.

In the future, the entire show will end up being a commercial.  People will accept it as they get used to it, and the show makers will get more and more subtle and creative.  For example, the types of gun used in action movies are currently determined by script writers and props people.  Soon, this will be put up for auction among various gun makers.  Whoever bids the highest will get to showcase their gun.  The show creators will not make a ton of money this way, but they will end up doing it for every single prop, like cars and computers and clothing.  Hopefully, that will add up to enough to cover the cost of the show without altering the plot too much.  But we will continue to see them making extra money by working all kinds of things into the plot.  The script manager and the advertising manager will end up being the same person.

Hopefully this will all mean the end of traditional commercials.  But not necessarily.  There will still be old people who are in the habit of sitting down in front of the TV and staring at whatever comes up.  So, given that the only people watching traditional commercials will be the old and non-tech-savvy, expect all of these commercials to be selling things to old people.  If you want to reach the youth audience, you will have to do product placements.

* These people need to realize that DVR ad-skipping violates the Categorical Imperative.  If everybody did it, then nobody would be able to get any money selling ads and it would be impossible to create new episodes of the show they like.

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