Friday, November 17, 2006

Non-Food/Non-Tech Post: The Office

It's been a while since I've had anything to post, which makes me antsy. While I will have things to post this weekend, mainly reviews from the chocolate show, I still feel the need to post this morning, about something that's been on my mind all night. Well, during the parts that I was awake. I'm a chronic insomniac, so there were a few.

I'm a big fan of a show on NBC called The Office. Part of the reason I like it is because it's funny, but unlike other shows, there's no laugh track to help you know when to laugh. You have to figure it out yourself. I also like it because it reminds me of so many offices that I have worked in, and even of the office that I work in now. Because of that, it tends to get uncomfortable at times, so much so that I even have a hard time looking at the picture on occassion. It's just a little too close to reality.

Last night, once of the characters was asked to shred a box of papers from another office branch that had just closed. He was pretty excited about it. He went on about how cool the shredder was. "Look! It can even shred a CD! It can even shred a credit card! Uh oh..." I was sitting there thinking it would choke on the CD, but it didn't. It ripped right through that thing. I was caught up in his excitement, mostly laughing at it. A few minutes later, they cut to a commercial break, which started with an ad from Staples. Halfway through the ad they showed a shredder, and I said to my wife, "hey look, it's the same shredder as Kevin had." My wife replied, "yeah, I saw it at Staples the other day. It said, 'as seen on The Office' next to it." And then it hit me. They had just pulled the most cunning product placement I had seen in a long time. I was already impressed with Kevin's shredder, because it could shred a CD. My own shredder at home stopped working a couple of months ago when I tried to feed it ten pages at once. And look! Staples has that same shredder! It wouldn't die if I fed it ten pages at once.

This morning, I woke up early. I do that a lot. While I was laying there trying to convince my brain to go to sleep, something occurred to me. On last week's episode of The Office, the boss of the other office had left for a job at Staples. And some episodes before that, a group of characters on the show had been at a paper convention, and one of them had set up a deal with a particular paper company who's products had previously been available exclusively to Staples. When they do things like that, I often idly wonder if they just used Staples because it's a highly recognizable name, and if Staples was going to get mad at them for not asking permission first.

Suddenly with the shredder, I realized why they had been mentioning Staples so much on The Office. Product placement. It's subtle. It's almost subliminal. And I would even go far as to say it's effective. I still want that shredder. I don't know that I'm that much more likely to go to Staples in general, though. I have an Office Max and an Office Depot right down the street from me, and I still generally drive the extra distance to Staples anyway.

It didn't stop there. I never had the chance previously to watch 30 Rock, because it aired on Tuesdays. I'd always been curious, because I liked Tina Fey on Saturday Night Live. They've just 30 Rock it to Thursdays, so we thought we'd give it a shot. The basis of the episode was product placement. Everyone was mad that the big boss wanted them to write a comedy sketch with product placement in it. They then proceeded to liberally and obviously endorse Snapple, much the same way we saw in Wayne's World. "I can't believe you're making us write a product placement sketch, but we sure do love this Snapple!" On a side note, I liked the episode. I'm only a little bummed that 30 Rock won't be airing immediately after The Office, and that I'll have to find something else to occupy my time while Scrubs is on.

Anyway, that episode of 30 Rock brought to mind what I frequently think about when I see product placement like that. I tend to think that a lot of people get pretty unhappy when they see that happening. It don't mind so much. It fascinates me. We've been seeing it in movies for years, so it was only a matter of time before we got to see this level on TV.

Well, I'd love to chat, but I'm running out of pens and I'm pretty thirsty. I'm going to head on over to Staples, and maybe pick up a Snapple on the way. I'll see you all later, after the chocolate show.

(This article not paid for by or affiliated in any way with Staples, Snapple, NBC or their affiliates, or the Utah Chocolate Show.)


  1. I noticed even more clever advertising tricks on NBC last night.

    Did you catch the 1/2 second {whisper}"save the cheerleader" right after the promo for Deal or No Deal? There was no mention, no promo, nothing about Heros except that tiny, almost imperceptible "save the cheerleader." I knew exactly what they were promoting, even though I've never watched Heros.

    Aaand. . . there was the NBC announcer (near the beginning of The Office, I think) who said something like "Now stay tuned to see who Ellen is working with these days." What proceeded was a cute, black and white short with Ellen Degeneres and her animal kingdom coworkers. It turned out to be an American Express ad.

    By the time 30 Rock came on (which I also watched for the first time last night), the "product placement" was absolutely over the top. In effect, NBC was advertising their own advertising to would be advertisers. The "product" being "placed" was "Product Placement." Want some?

    NBC has a three-pronged advertising strategy: Subliminal, Liminal, and Superliminal.

  2. I'm afraid I don't watch game shows, so I didn't see the Deal thing. But I did catch the Ellen thing. I could have sworn it was a 3-second bumper/interstitial, not embedded into the show or anything.

    It's interesting to me when networks manage to pull that kind of collaboration. Food Network does that on occassion. Since most of their shows are owned and produced by them, they can pull off themes really well. "Hey Bobby, Alton, Paula and Rachel... we've got Quince Week coming up, and we need some themed shows. Get crackin'." With "Cook With Your Kids Week" and "Country Week", it was pretty obvious with Good Eats that that was what was happening.

    Same thing with NBC. Some shows are more obvious than others. The format of 30 Rock just lends itself more to making fun of itself than the others. I remember being forced into making up skits in school, and pulling the same trick as the 30 Rock writers. "I've got an idea! Let's do a sketch about a bunch of students being forced to so a sketch!" My 8th grade health teacher actually apologized to us afterwards for forcing us to do that assignment. All in all, I'd call it a success.

  3. I was wondering if anyone else caught the whisper. It reminds me of "All good teenagers take off their clothes" from Disney's Aladdin movie, except this one was for advertising, not random insertions of persuasive media. It's still the same thing, though. I think an important thing to remember, at least from my standpoint, is that these messages just spark the idea in one's head. They don't make you follow through on it. It's still your choice to buy a Coke, take off your clothes, or watch Heroes. If you realize that the ones who have the money are using this stuff to make more money, it becomes a lot easier to ignore all the ads and focus on the content of the program. I guess the real question is how much fluff can an advertising entity cram into their media until people lose track of the content altogether
    because of the overwhelming extra ads. I'm sure we'll find out soon enough.


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