Will iPad’s product placement go into marketing handbooks?

Tomorrow (April 3) will be the US release date of one of this year’s most hyped products – Apple’s iPad. Recently some of the world’s most influential technology gurus, e.g. David Pogue of NY Times or Walt Mossberg of Wall Street Journal had given iPad very positive reviews, so we can expect high volume sales in the first weeks.

On March 31, just three days before the stores will start selling this highly anticipated product, iPad was a star of the 19th episode of the ABC’s TV show Modern Family.

Modern Family

For all those of you who are not familiar with this show, here’s a quick recap:

The show follows the families of Jay Pritchett (played by Ed O’Neill – his most famous role is Al Bundy from the TV show Married with Children), his daughter Claire Dunphy, and his son Mitchell Pritchett who live in LA. Claire is a homemaker mom in a traditional family, married to Phil Dunphy; they have three children. Jay is married to a much younger foreign woman, Gloria, and is raising her pre-teen son. Mitchell and Cameron are a gay couple who have adopted a Vietnamese baby, Lily (source: Wikipedia).

Apple’s upcoming iPad was a key part of the plot of the latest episode. The Dunphy family tries to buy their dad an iPad for his birthday, which coincides with the device’s launch day. Of course they didn’t pre-order it, so they are desperately trying to fulfill their father’s birthday wish.

Phil is a bit of a geeky dad and calls himself an early adopter. The fact that iPad goes on sale on his birthday gives an additional boost to his desire for it. He even said: “It’s like God and Steve Jobs got together to say ‘We love you, Phil’”

Spoilers next!


The product placement in this episode of Modern Family was a little bit over the top. We could say that it might be an example of product placement prostitution (discussed here and here). When Phil finally got his iPod, he asks his family, “Who’s ready for the first day of the rest of their lives?” He even blew out the “candles” atop an animated cake on the iPad’s screen.

Phil blowing candles on iPad in Modern Family S01E19 (2010, ABC, screen capture)


In the final minutes of this episode the entire cast stands around Phil’s new iPad and starts with ooohs and aaahs. And in the final seconds Phil is caressing his new toy and I was expecting that he would say “My precious”, but thankfully he didn’t.

Family gathers around iPad in Modern Family S01E19 (2010, ABC, screen capture)


In my opinion the timing for this product placement was perfect. It was executed like it needs to be:

  • the product was integrated in the plot (actually the plot was built around the device)
  • iPad was mentioned in different contexts – with very positive attitude towards it
  • it was shown on the screen, they showed us a neat app (blowing candles) and Phil nearly got all emotional while using it.

Some of the reports from the web suggest that opinions about this placement are polarized – some like it very much and the others just hated it. But the authors of the show managed to achieve the “I want to buy this product” effect. On top of that more than 9 million viewers watched this episode of Modern Family – all of them were fully engaged with the story. And this is the main difference between product placement and a standard TV ad.

Phil and his new toy in Modern Family S01E19 (2010, ABC, screen capture)


So, the time (and sales results) will tell whether the iPad product placement in the Modern Family would be recognized as one of the best examples in this industry and if it deserves a place in the marketing handbooks.

I liked it and I want to buy this product :)

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