One of my favorite shows/guilty pleasures is NBC’s The Biggest Loser. Nothing makes me happier than sitting in my bed while eating ice cream and watching a bunch of people work hard to change their lives. I don’t know what draws me in more, the celebrity trainers (Team Dolvett!) or the hardcore, rigorous workouts. However, nothing succeeds in making me angrier than when, right after one of these sweat sessions, the players go back to the house and fix themselves a snack. Now, normally this wouldn’t bother me at all–if they want want to eat, they should go ahead and eat! The thing that really irks me involves the clear and very annoying presence of product placement.
What exactly is product placement? We’ve all seen it, whether we know it or not. If you don’t happen to know what it is, then Cracked.com published a great article called The Ten Most Shameless Product Placements in Movie History. My personal favorite on its list is You’ve Got Mail and AOL. I’d never really thought about it, but that whole movie is pretty much an advertisement for the messaging service. “If you use AOL, you will find the man of your dreams… aka Tom Hanks!”
The way it’s used in Biggest Loser is even more obvious. Watch more than two episodes, and I challenge you NOT to know the show’s sponsors, Subway and Ziploc. What’s troubling about the use of product placement, specifically on reality television, is that it makes one question the believability of the entire episode. If this scene is staged, then how much trust can one put in the rest of the show?
A couple seasons ago, Biggest Loser had a particularly interesting scene involving Ziploc, which you can watch here. The “subtle” implications are as follows: Bob Harper, a celebrity, uses Ziploc to store his portion-controlled food. I need to do that to lose weight. If I lose weight, I’ll be happier. Thus, Ziploc presumably wins over thousands of viewers and their pocketbooks.
Because of product placement’s often campy nature, one wonders how effective it actually is. Are Americans really fooled? Doubtful. Like we discussed in class, consumers are completely aware of advertising techniques yet continue to respond to them anyway. Product placement plants the name of a brand in viewers’ minds in association with something they already enjoy (e.g. The Biggest Loser), which seems like a good tactic for advertisers. As to the question of how we as viewers can stay immune, I’d simply say that one should decide for his or herself how willing he or she is to stick with a show that utilizes product placement. Though Biggest Loser makes me mad at times, I’m way too hooked and will continue to eat my ice cream every Tuesday night, completely manipulated and utterly content.