We are familiar with product placement in television shows. Last week, NBC Universal (NBCU) tried what it calls ‘behavior placement’ which attempts to get viewers to adopt behaviors they see television characters doing. Beginning April 19, NBCU outlets featured about 100 hours of green-themed programming. Examples of the type of programming include Law & Order detectives investigating a cash-for-clunkers scam, and Al Gore making a guest appearance on 30 Rock.
Starting with fall 2007, NBC executives began asking producers of most shows to incorporate at least one green-themed storyline into programming. The same year, NBCU launched “Green Week’ during which it aired green-themed programming as part its ‘Green is Universal’ corporate campaign. Green Week raked in an estimated $20 million in advertising revenue from 20 sponsors. In April 2008, NBC had another week of green-themed programming.
A Wall Street Journal article says that behavior placement helps sell advertisements “to marketers who want to associate their brands with a feel-good, socially aware show.” Does it work? NBCU executives think it does. NBCU CEO, Jeff Zucker says, “People don’t want to be hit over the head with it. Putting it in programming is what makes it resonate with viewers.”
“Subtle messaging woven into shows mainstreams it, and mainstreaming is an effective way to get a message across,” says Lauren Zalaznick, president of NBCU Women & Lifestyle Entertainment Networks.
“You’re not forcing your way into a program in any shape or form,” says Jason Kanefsky, a media buyer at Hava’s MPG, says of behavior placement. “You’re just nodding your head at a program.”
Dr. Mary-Lou Galician, author of ‘Handbook of Product Placement in the Mass Media’ and head of Media Analysis & Criticism at Arizona State University thinks behavior placement is a “totally lame approach in terms of a network or medium assuming that every viewer is a moron and that we’re not going to get it.” She continues, “The placement has to be associated with a character or activity that is perceived by the viewer as positive.”
Perhaps the time is right for behavior placement. Networks have more leeway now to try new things. “All the networks are doing things now that they never would have done 10 or 15 years ago when they were kings of the castle,” says Brian Steinberg, television editor at Advertising Age. “They’re allowing more intrusive placements and deeper connections with advertisers. We’re at a point now where it’s getting more egregious because the networks are economically flailing about for some new model.”
Is NBCU’s “new thing” working? What do you think?