|Having trouble avoiding ads lately? Get used to it: Starting June 5, reruns of Law & Order on TNT may include computer-generated advertisements embedded inside the show. |
Thanks to the wonders of virtual product placement, Detective Briscoe's coffee mug could become ripe real estate for Madison Avenue. And soon, the crime drama could become home to a new crop of make-believe signs and soda cans, marking the first time the technology has been used on a scripted TV series.
Both TNT and the creators of the technology, New Jersey-based Princeton Video Image, confirm to Advertising Age magazine that the plan is moving forward. The cable network, which struck a 10-year deal for the long-running NBC series, is planning to air Law & Order reruns twice a night starting next month.
But the show's producers, Dick Wolf and Studios USA, insist that no agreement has been signed. "It is by no means a done deal," says Neil Schubert, spokesman for Studios USA. "There have been discussions in the past, but there's no deal existing right now."
Product placement is nothing new--brand names can be seen plastered all over films and TV shows. Last year, Coca-Cola spent $6 million to place its logo prominently throughout the WB's short-lived series Young Americans. And Survivor featured unavoidably cheesy references to Bud Light, Target, Doritos and the Pontiac Aztek. The same type of product plugs will be used for ABC's reality game show, The Runner.
Just this week, the season finale of ABC's Dharma & Greg even used its own script to promote makeup giant Maybelline. As part of a cross-branding sweepstakes, Dharma viewers were encouraged to find out which character muttered the company's slogan, "Maybe she's born with it."
No series, however, has ever included virtual product placement--which could make it possible for logos to change with every rerun, and make syndication that much more lucrative.
Hard to imagine, but the logos on Law & Order could change more times than, well, the cast members on Law & Order.
Still, the prospect already has watchdogs nervous. "It's all part of the same thing, potentially manipulating audiences [through] potentially deceptive marketing practices," Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, tells The New York Times.
For its part, Princeton Video Image insists it won't do anything extreme with the technology--like, say, pasting American Express banners on Jack McCoy's forehead.
"We're going to be doing it on a controlled test basis, to get the logistics down and make sure it can be done organically and seamlessly," Princeton Video v.p. Paul Slagle tells the Times. "We've all agreed going forward it's only a bad idea if we do it in a nonorganic way."
"Organic," of course, is all relative. With gadgets like TiVo now growing in popularity, advertisers are feverishly searching for new ways to prevent viewers from fast-forwarding through their spots. Virtual product placement is commonly used during televised sporting events--whether it's the banner ads behind home plate during a Major League baseball game, or logos digitally pasted onto sidewalks.
The technology was briefly tested in prime-time in 1999, when images for Coca-Cola, Kenneth Cole, Evian and Wells Fargo were dropped into scenes of the UPN series, Seven Days. A Princeton Video subsidiary also reportedly used the virtual ads successfully for a Mexican soap opera.
According to Advertising Age, the company previously pursued a deal to place virtual ads in reruns of Friends and The Drew Carey Show, but it eventually fell through.