Film, television, and other entertainment have to strike a balance between being unadulterated and generating a profit. Without being able to do so we would lose some of our favorite past-times. Like any marketing, the skill is being able to accomplish this task as unobtrusively as possible. In the case of entertainment, and perhaps more broadly all marketing, if producers have done their jobs right then you wouldn’t realize they did anything at all.
Take for instance one of my favorite examples of product placement done right: AMC’s The Walking Dead. If you watch the show you may have noticed how often you see Hyundai vehicles but it is just as likely you haven’t noticed. Despite noticing it or not a strong association has been developed with The Walking Dead and Hyundai. Obviously the message isn’t “If you like brains then you’ll love Hyundai!” nor is it “Hyundai – the only car that will save you from the zombie apocalypse.” Instead it has given Hyundai an opportunity to showcase their vehicles and keep them top-of-mind among a targeted audience. The reason this is a favorite example of mine is because it is so unobtrusive to the plot and theme of the show, and it isn’t forced upon the viewer with cheesey lines referencing how great the cars are. But did you know you’ll never see a scene in which a cast member doesn’t buckle-up before driving off, even with hordes of zombies descending upon them? How about that you’ll never see a scene in which a Hyundai experiences problems as a result of mechanical or electrical problems? They’re small details but they demonstrate a great deal of thought and care in how to position a brand within the context of entertainment.
We all know when product placement goes horribly wrong. Everyone has had a moment watching a television show or a movie before where they couldn’t help but cringe at the lack of finesse and tact. You probably immediately followed by asking “are you serious?” Sometimes it is done so poorly that you hear about it without yourself partaking in that particular entertainment. The CW’s The Vampire Diaries created quite a stir online after one of the characters, demonstrating that they found something on the internet, had explained nonchalantly that they “Bing’d it.” I’ve never seen the show before but I know that someone on the show Bing’d something. Yes, Microsoft actually paid them in an attempt to take on the ubiquitous use of Google’s name with searching online.
Bing’d it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=talcGAOj9YQ
Not only is it just a bad idea to try and rewrite the English language and invent a colloquialism but to do so in an attempt to take on something like the verb Google just seems futile, disingenuous and almost insulting to the viewers. Even if it wasn’t all of those things what was the plan? Defeat the verb Google by placing “I Bing’d it” in one episode of one television show? That’s top-notch strategy right there. Bing does have a robust marketing strategy so in fairness the placement wasn’t unsupported by other branding, it was just poorly executed. If I wanted to be overly generous I could concede that this might have exposed some naïve people to Bing, but I think Microsoft is lucky that this didn’t backfire into a meme that conveys the complete opposite of what they had intended. Those marginal but probably non-existent gains could have come at the price of an unforgiving internet spreading a massively negative message.