Placement of Products

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

So, what if it's free?

So, is it product placement if it’s free?

In last season’s South Park, an entire episode focused on Sony’s new PSP. In the episode Kenny got a PSP and was playing it non-stop, until he died as usual. This time, when he went heaven, they needed Kenny to play the “Golden PSP”—saying that the PSP was actually planted on Earth by God because they needed to see who would have the best talents to direct the heavenly army against Satan’s soldiers.

The whole 30 minutes of the show was entirely focused on the wonders of the PSP, which had just been released at the time. If you’re one of those avid television watchers who notice the supposed-to-be-discreet product placements, you probably would have laughed at the obviousness of South Park’s promotion of the PSP. But it was unpaid!

So is that okay? If its unpaid, then is it not as unethical as it would have been had they been paid to focus an episode around a PSP? If that’s the case, why draw the line anywhere? If there’s already going to be a soda can sitting on a desk, why not have Pepsi pay to put its name on the can? If the high school kids are already wearing shirts with words printed on them, why not have Abercrombie shirts? Why is it so different if the producers are paid to promote the brand, instead of just randomly choosing to promote a brand and receiving no compensation? Why don’t we consider the entire idea of product placement good business strategy instead of the downfall of entertainment as we know it?


At 6:36 PM, Blogger Tanner Dieppa said...

The creators of South Park have said that they try to balance out the product placement because they aren't paid and they don't want Nintendo to feel left out; some of these companies advertise on Comedy Central and they don't want to cause trouble. This is why a huge plot device in two episodes was Cartman's desire to get the Wii and GTA: Chinatown Wars for the DS was mentioned in a different episode.

I don't think this particular episode focused on the PSP- it could just have easily been a DS. In other words, they didn't highlight the features of the PSP or claim it was better than the competition. It was just a plot device. Egregious examples of product placement do occur in other shows like Bones where they specifically mention the features of the Prius, for example. This episode (with the PSP) was much more about the right-to-die controversy and the recent (at the time) Terri Schiavo story.

An even more interesting example to discuss would be the World of Warcraft episode in which some in-game footage was used. Trey Parker and Matt Stone said they didn't know whether the Blizzard people would agree to help them make that episode; they shouldn't have been surprised, though- it was free product placement. Blizzard was very much involved in the animation of that episode.


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