Brand Integration Gone Bad

March 2, 2012

Is it possible that prominent product placement in a network TV show can actually do more harm than good to a brand? The answer is “yes,” based on a few recent examples I’ve witnessed. And this comes from someone who believes that branded content is the future for marketers looking to reach consumers in the age of DVRs, On Demand, Hulu and Netflix.

The key to branded entertainment is the word “entertainment,” which advertisers too often forget. When it comes to TV product placement, marketers are spending more than ever and gaining more influence on the networks in the process. But when they insist on incorporating key messages instead of finding a clever, natural way to weave their brand into a storyline, it can be a startling disruption and a turnoff for viewers.

Subway gained a ton of negative attention last month for creating perhaps the most egregious example of all-time in an episode of “Hawaii Five-0.” Check out the characters interrupting the plot to banter about Subway for nearly a minute. I laughed out loud when I saw it, but sadly “Hawaii Five-0” is not a comedy.

Subway is far from the only offender out there, however. In fact, if Subway is the current “bad product placement” champion, State Farm must be the number one contender for the title. In reading some YouTube comments about the Subway clip, I discovered this gem from “90210,” where the characters surf State Farm’s website for renter’s insurance. You’ve got to see this ham-handed attempt to believe it.

So what’s the key to successful brand integration into programming? Like any good marketing effort, it must be compelling and relevant. Rather than tightly controlling the key messages, marketers should demand that their brand is seamlessly worked into a scene in a creative way.

Consumers are willing to accept brands in their favorite shows. For me, it’s actually more realistic to see someone drinking a Coke rather than a Cola, shopping at Target instead of a generic mall, or even eating a Subway sandwich. If marketers give up some control and let the writers do their jobs, everyone will win. The networks will get their money without appearing to be sellouts and brands will engage consumers instead of insulting them.