The Complex World of Product Placements

Posted on November 16, 2005

E Online's Answer B!tch shares the scoop about those product placements that the Writers Guild is so unhappy about. Those who wish to write for television or film should take notes. After all, when you're scripting that scene for CSI or Lost, you don't want to use the sponsor's product in an inappropriate or unflattering way.

One example was the CSI episode where a kidnapped girl used Bubblicious gum wrappers as bread crumbs to let people know she was still alive. This use was fine in the minds of the advertisers.
"The gum wrappers were her bread crumbs," Schrager explained. "People found a path to her. What's important is to protect a company from a negative connotation."

Right. Now, if the CSI writers wanted the drug-crazed youth to, say, light the Bubblicious wrappers on fire and use them to crash a plane full of seventh graders, the gum manufacturer would probably said no. Context, you understand. Context.

Companies even let their products take a pivotal role in a character's death, as long as the product is the clear victim of nefarious dealings. A con artist tampered with a Mercedes-Benz on CSI: Miami last month, resulting in the awful demise of some random guy. According to Schrager, car companies gladly let that kind of stuff happen, "as long as the radiator doesn't just suddenly go out, or the accident isn't the fault of the manufacturer."
So, to summarize: if your scene calls for a thief driving a BMW to accidentally run over a bystander, that's fine. But if you write it so that the BMW explodes because of a faulty gas tank thereby killing several nearby schoolchildren, you're probably in the wrong job and should consider a career as a plaintiff's lawyer.