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April 15, 2009

And now a word from our sponsors (via our characters)

Every week on the Biggest Loser (I'm officially addicted and I'm not ashamed to admit it), they do an awkward little product placement segment. It usually starts with one of the players wondering aloud in an empty room: "I know I have to work out soon, but I'm a little hungry. Is there anything I can snack on that won't ruin my workout?" or "I'm really craving something sweet but I don't want to blow my calories for the day. What to do?"

At that point, Jillian enters bearing a box of Fiber One bars, hands one to the confounded contestant, and begins rattling off the benefits while the player nods and says "mmmm...can't believe how good this is" in between chews. 

Now, It is a show about dieting (or as my brother-in-law put it in a fruitless attempt to shame me, "a waste of two hours a week watching other people lose weight"). So it makes sense to talk about "sweet AND sensible" Extra sugar free gum or Jennie-O "just as good as pork and better for you" turkey sausage. I don't really mind the patent idiocy of these segments. But when Bob walked into the den to get the group pumped about the upcoming DVD release of Marley and Me - which they were getting early and here it is! - well, that annoyed me.

As both an ad person and a DVR addict, I realize that product placement is a necessary evil. But really. Can't marketers/producer try just a little harder? With a little effort, product placement can go from being intrusive to being interesting, relevant, even, I daresay, a welcome addition to the show.  Don't believe me? Just look to the masters: 30 Rock. A few weeks ago, they constructed an entire story arc around  Wikipedia abuse. Last week, when Jack Donaghey ended the episode by saying he "had to get Showtime," you agreed. Sure, there's a deliberate wink in the delivery, but in their hands, product placement becomes a seamless part of the entertainment. Granted, "reality" TV doesn't have the luxury of such brilliant scriptwriting (or does it?). But they do have the option - the responsibility, in my opinion - to choose products that make sense in their context. Putting all the players in the family room is not a strategy.

In this day and age, we're all used to ads. We know they're out there. We know they want our attention. We know there's all this stuff in the world and that stuff needs to be sold. And I don't think we really mind being sold to anymore. As long as the seller is smart, or entertaining, or funny, or relevant, or otherwise worth paying attention to. 

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