The best product placement in the TV shows

In the last 20-25 years I watched quite a number of TV shows, but only a few can qualify for the ‘Best of the best’ segment. These are: Moonlighting (my guilty pleasure), Twin Peaks and Mad Men. The first one is on the list because of Bruce Willis (obviously) and the second because I haven’t seen anything like that before (and after). The last one is probably the best TV show ever.

Mad Man has everything that a viewer can wish for: great acting, clever plot, great emphasis on details from the 60s, atmosphere, visual style … Matthew Weiner, creator and producer of Mad Men, had previously worked as a writer for The Sopranos, but Mad Man and especially the main character Don Draper are his finest hour.

Before reviewing the product placement from the season 1 finale, let’s check some background. If you’re familiar with the plot you’ll probably remember the ending of the first season. The season is initially set in March 1960 and closes on the evening before Thanksgiving that year. The last episode is a culmination of several stories revolving around Don:

  • the relationship with his brother;
  • Don’s fragile marriage with Betty;
  • changing roles in the agency with the arrival of Duck Phillips;
  • Don’s promiscuity that affected the agency’s business (he was even warned by Bert) and his marriage;
  • Peggy’s development as a copywriter and her pregnancy.

Don Draper delivering his famous pitch in Mad Men (2009, AMC, screen capture)

 

Before you watch the clip from this episode, let me just briefly describe the background of this scene.

Don has just realised that his brother had hung himself in a hotel at Times Square. It’s a big blow for Don, because he had abandoned his brother years ago and in the present he paid him off and sent him away. He then realized that his former lover Rachel Menken had gone on a three-month cruise. He has also cancelled Thanksgiving trip to Betty’s parents because of work. But suddenly he recognized that he had to stop running and get back to his wife and kids. Betty, meanwhile, finally realized that Don’s adultery is ruining their marriage. She told her shrink what she was suspecting, because she knew that the shrink will tell Don everything from Betty’s therapies. In the Sterling Cooper agency the new head of accounts Duck Phillips had invited Kodak for a pitch – for their new device: a Kodak projector.

Here’s the clip from the episode with an emotionally shattered Don Draper delivering his masterpiece :

As you can see, here’s a man, full of doubts, who has just realised what and where is his home. He then drove home where he knows that he is loved. Unfortunately … he’s left with nothing but an empty house, on the eve of Thanksgiving, a holiday that’s all about family values. The episode and season ends with Bob Dylan’s song “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right”.

So, was this product placement good? I’ll borrow the words from one of my favourite TV critics Alan Sepinwall: “How freakin’ great was Don Draper’s sales pitch to the Kodak people? So great that he wowed the Kodak guys into cancelling their other pitches. So great that it made me want to invest in a slide projector even in this age of digital photography. So great that it sold Don himself on illusion of the happy life he appears to share with Betty.”

 

 

Don also explained that it’s not the new technology that is the most important, but it’s the consumer that has to “be engaged in a level beyond flash”. The consumer needs to have a “sentimental bond with the product”. Those words are basis for branding – every brand must have an emotional element which can be connected to consumers and can communicate the benefits to them. It feels great when your product is used in such a scene.

Kodak’s product placement had all elements of a great placement:

  • the product is mentioned;
  • the product is used;
  • the product is shown on screen;
  • the product is emotionally attached to the main character;
  • the product is used as a metaphor.

What else can you want and get from the product placement? It is the perfect product placement in the perfect moment in the perfect show.

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Some additional notes from the episode:

  • Here’s Don’s full speech:

Don: “Well, technology is a glittering lure. But there is the rare occasion when the public can be engaged on a level beyond flash, if they have a sentimental bond with the product. My first job, I was in house, at a fur company. This old pro copywriter, Greek, named Teddy. And Teddy told me the most important idea in advertising is “new.” It creates an itch. You simply put your product in there as a kind of calamine lotion. But he also talked about a deeper bond with the product: nostalgia. It’s delicate. But potent.“

Slideshow begins.

Don: “Teddy told me that in Greek, nostalgia literally means “the pain of an old wound.” It’s a twinge in your heart, far more powerful than memory alone.”

Don shows slides of his wife, his children, picnics, celebrations, wedding and family moments.

Don: “This device isn’t a spaceship. It’s a time machine. It goes backwards. Forwards. It takes us to a place where we ache to go again. It’s not called The Wheel. It’s called The Carousel. It lets us travel the way a child travels, around and around, and back home again, to a place where we know we are loved.”

  • The lyrics from the Bob Dylan’s Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right:

Well, it ain’t no use to sit and wonder why, babe

If you don’t know by now

An’ it ain’t no use to sit and wonder why, babe

It’ll never do, somehow

When your rooster crows at the break of dawn

Look out your window and I’ll be gone

You’re the reason I’m trav’lin’ on

But don’t think twice, it’s all right

  • A carousel slide projector is a common form of slide projector, used to project slide photographs and to create slideshows. Simpler tray slide projectors often do not have the carousel form, but use the same mechanism with a linear tray.

The Kodak Carousel family of projectors, which have a horizontally mounted tray, are probably the most familiar and common carousel projectors. They were introduced in the spring of 1962. During the 1970s, Kodak also produced a Pocket Carousel projector for use with miniature 110 format Kodachrome slides. The Kodak Carousel projector was discontinued in October 2004. (Source: Wikipedia)

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2 comments

  1. Thank you for this article, seems like you have put a lot of work to it and I think all movie fans would appreciate it :)

  2. Product placement is definitely iffy in my opinion. I really don’t like it in many mediums since the way it is used can either be small and tiny and subtle(Best kind) to be really completely obvious. Book of Eli stood in my mind as the worst. One example is when the villian gets out a microphone and shows the audience that it is a motorola product (albeit very broken and worn out) and it still works. xD

    But yeah, product placement is iffy.