'Entourage' exemplifies need for smarter product placement

Suddenly, I have a yen for Jax wine... why is that? Could it be that it was unavoidably shoved in my face during two unrelated scenes of the HBO comedy Entourage so distractingly - clearly a product placement - that I found myself wondering, "What is this Jax that all of young Hollywood is swilling, and where can I get some to be just like them?" rather than following the plot. Well, not exactly.

Suddenly, I have a yen for Jax wine... why is that? Could it be that it was unavoidably shoved in my face during two unrelated scenes of the HBO comedy Entourage so distractingly - clearly a product placement - that I found myself wondering, "What is this Jax that all of young Hollywood is swilling, and where can I get some to be just like them?" rather than following the plot. Well, not exactly.

Jax Vineyards gloats over the opportunity on its Web site, including a testimonial for the Entourage props master. "We had a bottle on the table for dinner and Kevin Dillon crosses to the pantry and comes back with a bottle in his hand then opens it and pours it in vinces [sic] glass. A very big hit for you. It was good I had some live bottles for the scene because the guys wanted real wine for the scene. They love your wine!!!!!"

As soon as a program becomes popular, it is apparently doomed to become little more than a platform for a parade of brands. Entourage in particular has transformed from a sly comment on the peculiar balance of power and egos in Hollywood into a fantasy camp for young guys who suddenly have unlimited sums of money to spend in the shopping mecca of the planet. Motorcycles, video games, flat-screen televisions, and Las Vegas have all been promoted through the adventures of our winsome foursome, and the producers are secure in the knowledge that their marketing partners are gleefully reaping the benefits of reaching their target demographic.

In truth, it probably doesn't matter that someone like me is put off by the preponderance of stuff that Entourage, and many other programs, is awash with. I'm not in the elite group of 18- to 25-year-old boys these marketers covet. But this is an example of a program that is buckling under the weight of its own success, forgetting that consumers are savvier today than they used to be and will see right through those curiously blank beer bottles the boys of Entourage seem partial to, as opposed to the lovingly displayed wine label of choice.

There is an opportunity, too, for smart PR programs to counteract the naming and product-placing culture. Some companies have sponsored commercial-free broadcasts of selected TV programs. Why not sponsor a label-free series or give a favorite sports stadium back its original moniker, rather than slap the corporate logo on it? Why not find ways to let consumers know that you understand that they are the ones who decide what they want, not you, and certainly not Vincent Chase and his band of overly moneyed avatars?

Marketers need sales and programmers need support, that's all understood. But a saturation point is quickly nearing if a more intelligent approach to bringing brands and media together isn't sought now.

For now, I'll probably switch over to Showtime's Brotherhood for a little relief from the consumable overload. Those guys are lucky to have a few neon beer signs decorating their set.

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