Product placement in TV and film is uncontroversial—if done properly.
Done simply, the brand just shows up and fans might take note. Think of all the kids who bought Reese’s after seeing them in E.T., or all the stuff James Bond wears.
Other times, product placement needs to call a bit more attention to itself. This can be dicey, but here’s Wayne’s World doing it well.
But note that in order to do product placement well, Mike Myers needs to make fun of product placement. People dislike ads so much that the only way they’ll tolerate one in their content is if it’s almost an anti-ad. Which brings us to one of the most unfortunate examples of product placement of all time: the Ford Focus commercial inside an episode of CBC’s Being Erica.
The show’s cold open features Erica, the lead character, Julianne, another lead, and some Ford salesman. The plot needs them to play Erica’s intriguing voicemail—which is an opportunity for the salesman to talk up the phone integration features on the Ford Focus. Then there’s an extended sequence where they have the Focus parallel park itself ending with Erica and Julianne literally applauding. “So high-tech!” they coo. Here’s the entire mess:
Unsurprisingly, fans of the show didn’t care for the sequence. One critic even called the colour of the car metallic vomit, which is perhaps not the kind of response Ford wanted. These same fans were already put off by some other overt product placement, namely, one character who kept talking up Tetley Infusions. This moment was perhaps the nadir of CBC product placements, which attracted considerable negative attention at the time.
It’s easy to imagine an alternative way this could have happened. In this ideal past, the writer’s room, after forty-five minutes of whining about content marketing and product placement, figures out a scene where teenager Erica causes a fender-bender after parallel parking and later in the episode is sitting in a Ford Focus with Julianne, who uses the parallel park button. Yes, it’s still pretty on the nose. But it’s more in-line with what the show was and less like a clumsily-executed commercial.
Now if only there was some sort of (branded) time travel machine to take us back in time and fix mistakes.