Product Placement Hits Titanic Proportions

Cruise ship web series is among latest bids to sink commercials into entertainment. Advertisers may risk going overboard…

By Jere Hester
|  Monday, Mar 7, 2011  |  Updated 9:15 PM CDT
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Product placement's ship has come in.

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Look out below: Product placement is showing signs of sinking deeper into programming.

Royal Caribbean International is sponsoring a new web series, with folks like James Brolin, Amy Yasbeck and Jenny McCarthy onboard, featuring stories tied to the company's cruise ships, The New York Times reports. Meanwhile, The Times notes, Glamour magazine is leaping into uncharted waters with an iPad-only reality show – called "Glamour Girls" – in which viewers will be able to instantly order outfits worn by the characters directly from Gap.com.

We’re getting to the point where the commercials soon will be indistinguishable from the show, which doesn't necessarily bode for great entertainment.

The product placement appears to be becoming less blatant (like the Coke cups atop the judges’ table on "American Idol”) and more subliminal. Buick sponsored an online travel series featuring the company’s cars. The Better Sleep Council, which represents the mattress industry, produced a web anthology series with storylines about snoozing. Bing held a contest to create a TV show that incorporates the search engine.

Commercials, as the Super Bowl proves annually, can be a draw – a recent survey found that 54 percent of viewers were as or more excited about the commercials than the game. Clever ads are a creative genre unto themselves. But even with increasingly ubiquitous web tie-ins, there’s still a general sense of where the commercial ends and the show begins.

At least with Glamour’s iPad show, it seems as if viewers will click in knowing what they’re also taking a virtual shopping trip. Less clear is how Royal Caribbean’s upcoming “Ocean Views” series will play with webisodes like, “Royal Reunion,” about a multi-generational family trip aboard the company’s new Allure of the Seas ship, according to The Times. We’ll soon see whether the gimmick shapes up as the “Love Boat” – or “Titanic” – of product placement.

As the media landscape shifts, advertisers are looking for new ways to sell their products – and the audience has an interest in seeing quality programming supported, no matter what the platform.  But there’s a danger of that shows could become stealth vehicles to sell commerce itself.

As for a return to clarity, that ship already may have sailed.
 

Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.

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