According to today's NYT, Comedy Central has worked out a deal for product placement within a cartoon series on the network, Shorties Watchin' Shorties.
The NYT notes that
Although it is difficult to identify firsts in marketing, this is thought to be the first time that paid placements will be a regular part of a cartoon series. Characters from animated series have appeared in commercials through the decades, from the Flintstones for Winston cigarettes, to the Simpsons for Butterfinger candy bars, but the products have not been embedded in the shows. Recently some products like Sprite, the soft drink, have appeared in the NBC animated series "Father of the Pride," but they were not paid placements.I disagree. This isn't the first time that a cartoon has been used for products, but might be the first time it's blatant for products that are not necessarily thought of as part of the cartoon.
Think of any childhood cartoon. Those aren't cartoons, but are 30 minute commercials for new toys. My cousin was a huge He-Man fan, and had to have ALL the toys. Why? Because he watched the show and was bombarded not only with commercial messaging from the show itself, but from the product commercials throughout.
Shorties Watchin' Shorties is an adult show, so that makes it different from cartoons of the past. But, the Simpsons - hands down the best written show ever - has tweaked product placements as a sly testimony to its advertising clout. While Bart was a pitchman for Butterfingers, the show's writers mocked that Bart was a spokesman for Butterfingers, while he was eating a ... Butterfingers.
The critics are up in arms about this. It pollutes television, it twists the message, it's a bad precedent.
Hello?! What are soap opera's origins if not a full show in support of one product? Product placement has been a part of television for years, and will continue to be so, ramping up as companies try to find ways to get eyeballs as DVRs get more and more use in society.
My only concern is that product placements should be handled by the PR firms, not the ad agencies. In the past, product placement was an extension of PR - clients asked the PR firm to get their products on TV. Now, that seems to be part of advertising. I'm not sure if this is good or bad, but it is another instance of what was formerly a PR activity being taken away. Blech.