Egregious Product Placement: The Closer & Hershey’s

September 10, 2010
By | 3 Comments

Chief Johnson enjoys a cookieThe 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.

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3 Responses to “ Egregious Product Placement: The Closer & Hershey’s ”

  1. Cynthia Meyers on September 12, 2010 at 12:47 PM

    Too funny! So what do you think? Is this going to fly? In the 1930s, Rudy Vallee would “eavesdrop” on his “nightclub patrons” discussing Fleischmann’s Yeast, and a serial interwove discussions between a homemaker and her housekeeper about soap and the complexion. So is there enough irony in this new version of integration to keep audiences from eyerolling? (Irony being the strategy by advertisers to say “we know you know this is an ad”!) Or is too lame?

    For me, any mention of any kind of chocolate (I’m not a Hershey fan) tends to create cravings….

    • Erin Copple Smith on September 12, 2010 at 1:21 PM

      Good question, Cynthia…and I don’t know the answer, certainly! :) I think, like so much of product placement, some audiences will find it amusing and/or acceptable and others will be irritated by its intrusion upon the narrative. The fact that advertisers are now requesting for very blatant displays of product makes it more difficult. If Provenza didn’t have to hold the Hershey’s bar at an unnatural angle, with a medium close-up, for a few beats longer than seem natural…then maybe folks wouldn’t roll their eyes. In some previous seasons, for example (before the Hershey’s partnership, as far as I can tell), Brenda would open up her desk drawer to show that it’s full of Hershey’s kisses. No obnoxious labels, no lingering cinematography, but yeah–we all know what a Hershey’s kiss looks like, and it was clear that Brenda’s a fan.

      It seems like the more overt the integration, the more annoyed audiences get…not surprisingly. It didn’t fit in with the Hershey’s deal, so I left it out of the piece, but last week’s episode featured a TERRIBLE integration of Sprint Overdrive (a product I didn’t know existed beforehand, so maybe even with the annoyance the ad “worked”). The detectives were trying to monitor a suspect via wireless, and then…IT WENT OUT! GASP! WHAT TO DO?! Luckily, Lieutenant Tao was there with his Sprint Overdrive, and everything was able to proceed smoothly. (Of course, in addition to the, “Here! Why don’t you use my SPRINT OVERDRIVE!” dialogue, the characters also had to IM each other about it. And we had to see the Sprint logo.

      OK. I’ve gone on long enough. Suffice it to say…I don’t know if this new strategy will work, but it certainly is entertaining to watch, as both a fan and a scholar.

      • Cynthia Meyers on September 12, 2010 at 1:57 PM

        Hmmm, very funny about SPRINT OVERDRIVE’s overkill! Maybe the best placement strategy is to make the product’s integration so subtle that audiences don’t know if the product is placed (and paid for) or there for verisimilitude (and unpaid for)? The more confident advertisers probably already get that!

        Tangent: How might the TV industry’s routine “greeking” of labels of products not “placed” (to prevent lawsuits over unpaid “clearance” fees to product makers) change? Have producers been using a threat to “greek” product labels as a way to extract product placement fees from companies? Have you come across this anywhere? Seems like the old model of producers paying to use a product should shift over to the product placement model–but isn’t greeking still happening? What have you noticed/heard?