Egregious Product Placement: The Closer & Hershey’s
The Closer‘s Deputy Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson (recent Emmy winner Kyra Sedgwick) is a real character. She’s no-nonsense, dresses in surprisingly girlish clothes, speaks with a strong (and phony…sorry Kyra…I still love you) southern accent, and can get criminals to confess using what appears to be a combination of cleverness and superpowers. Oh yeah…she also has a serious addiction to sweets. Whether she’s scarfing down a Ding-Dong, scrounging for a candy bar in the bottom of her purse/briefcase, or digging through the top left drawer of her desk (filled with candy) to unearth some treat, audiences quickly learn that Chief Johnson uses sweets to cope with the stress of her job. And her job is very stressful. So she eats a lot of sweets.
And now The Closer has taken Brenda’s love of candy and marshaled it into an opportunity for product placement by partnering with Hershey’s this season. In the world of product placement, this is, as @mplsmaven notes, a “no brainer.” The product being integrated is a natural fit for the character–if Brenda’s going to be eating a candy bar, the show might as well get paid for her to eat a Hershey’s bar. It’s the holy grail of product integration: getting paid to advertise something your character would naturally use.
But the Closer-Hershey’s partnership extends beyond the fictionalized Los Angeles Brenda inhabits and continues into the commercial breaks, and it’s not the product placement but the relationship between product placement and advertisement that I find so intriguing. You see, after Brenda has a snack of a KitKat bar (or a Reese’s cup, or whatever–every episode is different), the next commercial break starts off with a type of bridge advertisement–an ad which is neither the series nor a standalone commercial–that promotes the precise candy just featured in the series.
These bridge ads open with a couple (always the same couple) sitting on a couch, watching a TV that has obviously gone to a commercial break during The Closer–we’re meant to understand that they’re watching the same show we are. And then they have some exchange which relates the content of The Closer to a Hershey’s product. In one episode, the young woman asks her partner for a piece of his KitKat bar. When he refuses, she affects the Southern(ish) accent of Deputy Johnson and attempts to use Brenda’s skills for confession against the boyfriend in order to acquire the candy. The ploy works, they’re both happy and laughing and joyful in their admiration for both The Closer and KitKat.
Like all product integration, this partnership is designed to link product and content in way that seems organic to the series and feels natural for audiences. “Sure,” we’re meant to think. “Of course Chief Johnson wants a Hershey’s bar!” The bridge ads featuring prototypic viewers suggests that real viewers should be tickled by the integrated ads, not annoyed. And, indeed…aren’t they in the mood for a Reese’s Cup themselves? The result seems to be a mix of eyerolling irritation and a serious craving for chocolate.