Last month, eight of the 10 shows with the most product placement were reality TV shows. This is unsurprising, but it is surprising is that the product placement in the shows with the most brand mentions were actually less obvious than shows with significantly fewer instances of product-whoring.
American Idol had 208 brand mentions, while The Apprentice had 127, according to Ad Age, which cites data from Nielsen. Top Model and The Biggest Loser were next, tied with 88, followed by The Amazing Race with 69. (Survivor did not make the top 10.)
What’s fascinating to me is that while American Idol has three times the product placement of The Amazing Race, it’s been far less noticeable. Sure, the results shows have, in the past, contained way too much paid nonsense, but that hasn’t been the case in March. In fact, that month included the best results show ever, and its product placement wasn’t overwhelming.
Compare that to The Amazing Race, which just three days later, had horrific product placement by Snapple, and by horrific, I mean totally non-organic. When it feels like the satirical product placement in The Truman Show, there’s a problem.
Product placement by itself is fine and if it helps earn revenue for TV shows that I love, that’s awesome. But a close-up on a logo on Top Chef is different than having a contestant on a race become a spokesperson for a product they aren’t being paid to promote. It’s all about making it organic.
Perhaps the best example of that is The Apprentice, on which the contestants basically create ads for companies. But whether they’re using the product to masturbate or creating a sales pitch that really works, the process and interaction between contestants is what gets the episode’s focus, and it doesn’t feel weird like it does when we have to hear Phil Keoghan repeatedly explain features on a car.