Two Product Placement Fails—and One Win

Product placement in TV series can be ridiculous.

Product placement in TV series and films isn’t new, but it’s becoming obnoxious and invasive.

Sure, it’s acceptable if a product simply appears in a scene or one character asks another to toss them a Coke. Those instances feel organic.

We watch TV and movies to escape the real world, including advertising. So an obvious commercial written into the story ruins the immersion. We’re not stupid; we know we’re watching an ad. Also, we pay for these services—including, in many cases, a premium fee to avoid ads in the first place.

There are ways to do product placement without being so deliberate—or at least make it a little more fun. Here are two examples of particularly irritating product placement fails, and one (kind of) win that we encountered recently.

Image 1 - Two Product Placement Fails and One Win

Sorry about the potato-quality photo, but it really goes with the fries.

FAIL: McDonald’s in Under the Banner of Heaven (S1, E1) | Hulu

In the first episode of this Hulu series, detectives Jeb Pyre (young, white, Latter-Day Saint, competent) and Bill Taba (middle-aged, experienced, Native American, also competent) frequently clash. Their issues range from differences in age, experience, faith, and race, all while investigating the gruesome murders of a young mother and her baby.

But suddenly, toward the end of the episode, Taba switches to buddy-cop banter mode, teasing Pyre about lusting after his McDonald’s fries. The conflict magically evaporates, and they’re all “BFF” now, thanks to a corporate sponsor.

That’s cheap, slapdash character development. And it’s corporate America needlessly invading the plot of a very serious show about a horrific crime. And—ba-da-ba-ba-baaaaa—we’re not lovin’ it.

FAIL: Takis in The Wilds (S1, E4) | Prime Video

The second season of this Amazon teen drama debuted last week, but we’re still rankled by the product placement fails from the first season.

First, it’s just ridiculous that only Diet Coke washed up on the shore after the plane crash, as though every other beverage sank to the ocean floor. But even more egregious is how Takis hijacks a massive chunk of the fourth episode, becoming the prize in a shelter-building contest.

Like it wasn’t enough that the girls found one small bag of Takis—it had to be the basis for the episode? And what teen castaways would propose a good-natured contest over found food? They’re marooned on a deserted island, struggling to survive. They would’ve fought like dogs for those chips. And we’re supposed to buy into this nonsense?

WIN: Arby’s in Mr. Mayor (S2, E8) | Peacock

In this episode, the in-show advertising is played for laughs. It starts in the very first scene with an influencer, “Titi B.,” plugging Arby’s, which she continues to do throughout the episode.

In a moment of self-awareness, the writers have Titi B. proclaim, “I gotta be real right now—and this is not a paid ad.” That’s funny. And so is the episode, even with Arby’s mentions popping up like dandelions.

But do good comedy writing and self-awareness make writing advertising into shows any less gross? Well, yeah. Or, uh, I mean, no. Gaaaaaahhhhh. I dunno.

I guess, compared to the artless advertising in serious shows like Under the Banner of Heaven and The Wilds, this technique makes it easier to swallow. That said, it’s still all idiocratic ridiculousness. And it’s not going away.

Anybody hungry? I’m thinkin’ Arb— Grrrrrr.

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