Problematic Promotional Moments

October 13, 2011
By | 4 Comments

Two examples over the past couple of weeks have revealed the dangers of orchestrating promotional moments in television: what happens when the production schedule leads to promotions which are out of date by the time they air?

First came the awkward placement of the HP TouchPad into the season premiere of The CW’s Gossip Girl.  Leaving aside the oddity of these characters using the TouchPad rather than the iPad, the promotion garnered attention because HP decided to get out of the PC business (including killing the very technology used by Serena) several weeks before the GG premiere.

As Advertising Age reports, this is the problem of the production schedule–placement deals are worked out months in advance, and sometimes by the time they air they’re already out of date.  The Ad Age piece cites Modern Family‘s spring 2010 integration of Toyota, a promotional effort that came to fruition at precisely the same time as Toyota’s massive recall PR nightmare.  In the case of both HP and Toyota, these promotions were developed into the storyline and filmed up to nine months in advance of their airing, making any changes in the final months an impossibility.

On the heels of the Gossip Girl awkwardness came the two most recent episodes of NBC’s The Sing-Off.  For the past two weeks, contestants competed with their interpretations of a current chart-topper and a 1960s hit.  The latter was being used as a cross-promotional opportunity for the network’s The Playboy Club, which aired in the 10 p.m. Eastern slot directly following the a cappella competition.  The end of the first episode featured host Nick Lachey exhorting, “If you enjoyed our ’60s songs, be sure to stick around for more of the decade and watch The Playboy Club, coming up next!”

When news of The Playboy Club’s demise came the following day, the promotion seemed like an awkward but charming moment, but this week’s episode of The Sing-Off–filmed over a week prior, mind you–was almost uncomfortable.  As the ’60s performances commenced, Lachey addressed his costume change by noting that the slick suit he was wearing had come from The Playboy Club‘s costume department.  As I fought the giggles (thinking that the costume department was probably happy to get rid of it as they cleaned house), it got even more awkward–at the moment Lachey finished this comment, a graphic appeared on the bottom of the screen, informing viewers that up next was Prime Suspect.

These two virtually concurrent instances of awkwardly out-of-date product integrations reveal two key truths about the nature of television advertising.  First, that the television production schedule requires a great deal of pre-planning on the part of advertisers, studio executives, and writers.  Second, that as product placement and cross-promotion become the norm due to ad-skipping with DVRs, DVDs, and online streaming, we’re not only going to see more integrations, but more moments when those placements just don’t work by the time they hit the air.

In the meantime, let’s get Serena and Blair some iPads, and hope next week’s episode of The Sing-Off doesn’t feature a cappella versions of songs about workplace romance.


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4 Responses to “ Problematic Promotional Moments ”

  1. Cynthia Meyers on October 13, 2011 at 9:58 PM

    Sounds like a job for the digital magicians who digitally replace old product placements with new ones, as Twentieth Century Fox says it does in the syndicated runs of some shows! Too tight a turnaround in these cases, I suppose….

    • Erin Copple Smith on October 14, 2011 at 9:02 AM

      Ha! Good point, Cynthia–I hadn’t thought of that. I do remember reading about them digitally taking out and putting in and what have you. My guess is that in the Gossip Girl case, they had already gotten paid, and WB doesn’t care whether or not HP is still selling TouchPads, anyway. In the case of The Sing-Off, I wonder if they didn’t cut out a promo at the end of the episode, but left in the costume comment because it would have been too awkward to cut it.

      They were all amusing, though!

  2. Myles McNutt on October 18, 2011 at 10:54 PM

    Love this post, and love seeing my Twitter feed making similar comments about Gossip Girl (as it seems like no one is watching The Sing-Off, based on the lack of commentary on the subject).

    Just a brief detail to add to the Sing-Off timing – the ENTIRE series was filmed in a few weeks earlier this summer, due to the timing difficulties relating to the college a capella groups who would have been unable to participate during the fall.

  3. Erin Copple Smith on October 22, 2011 at 8:27 PM

    Good to know about the Sing-Off filming–I knew it must’ve been done at least a bit in advance, since they always show clips from the upcoming episode, but didn’t know they did it over the summer. Makes sense, of course–I’d wondered how all those college kids were dealing with being out of school. (Not to mention what would have happened if the high school participants had gone farther than they did!)

    That puts a SERIOUS wrench in the promotional works, then, eh? Have to wonder what they cut out.