In case you missed it, several major US television networks are suing Dish over its ad “hopping” technology that allows viewers to easily skip past ads. But there’s one type of ad even Dish can’t help them skip. Product placement. Let’s revisit this type of unstoppable, poorly disclosed ad product using a recent episode from Fox’s “New Girl” TV show.
A year ago, Fox — along with CBS and NBC — filed a lawsuit against Dish over a feature that allows you to jump past commercials. I know. Can’t you just skip past ads with any decent DVR? Sure, but this supposedly does it even easier for you. (By the way, Dish has given me a Hopper DVR to try, but I’ve yet to test the feature. DirecTV, which I pay for, is the main way I watch broadcast TV. I skip ads the old-fashioned way, by fast-forwarding.)
What Dish can’t do is get you past are product placements, where advertisers positioning their products within TV programs. This type of advertising isn’t new, but in light of the focus on “ad skipping” and threats to TV network revenue, as well as the US Federal Trade Commission wanting better disclosure when ads seem like content, it’s well worth a revisit.
Counting The Ads In “New Girl”
I especially felt that way after watching the “First Date” episode of New Girl last month, in how often the 2013 Ford Escape turned up in the show itself, including with a not-so-subtle demonstration of its hatch that can be opened with a foot tap.
My recording was 30 minutes long, including both the show and the ads. Let’s get the ads out of the way, first. There were three major breaks in the show for these, as follows:
- First commercial break: 2 minutes, including 30 seconds for an Ford Escape ad
- Second commercial break: 3 minutes, including 30 seconds for another Escape ad
- Third commercial break: 2 minutes, including 30 seconds for yet another Escape ad
That’s seven minutes of pure ads. There was also one minute of promotional spots for the network, leaving 22 minutes for the show itself.
Counting The Product Placements
Of the show, almost a minute is taken up with the Escape being on screen, nearly 5% of the show. It starts right after the first commercial break ends, with the character Nick getting out of a 2013 Ford Escape:
It’s not Nick’s car, by the way. Nick’s is a junker that barely runs. But fortunately, his roommate Winston just got a new Escape and offers it up for Nick’s big date — with his other roommate, Jess.
Soon after getting out of the car, Nick is stopped by a cop giving him a jaywalking ticket. Nick never actually jaywalks across the street. He was just beginning to cross. But this offers an excellent opportunity for Nick and the cop to have an extended discussion in front of the Escape, plus it provides a running bit for later in the episode.
Nick and Jess eventually leave the restaurant in what will be another running bit, and Nick decides to drop his coat off in the Escape using the foot-activated liftgate feature:
Ford pushes this feature on the new Escape pretty hard as distinctive for its SUV (I know this, because I have an older Escape, so all the Escape ads catch my eye). In case you missed the feature in action, the TV show actually cuts to a close-up of it when Nick closes the hatch:
Depending on how you want to count, the Ford Escape gets at least 8 seconds of pure “watch how it works” on-screen time and about one minute total of screen presence, as best I count.
In addition, when a New Girl promo comes up during one of the commercial breaks, 5 seconds of that 15-second spot repeat some of the Escape’s placement:
More Placement To Come? More Disclosure As Well?
As network concern grows over ad skipping, along with pirated TV shows being offered online, I wonder if we’ll see more aggressive moves to up product placement like this, to have ads that can’t be skipped. New Girl is hardly the only show to do it; I often see it happening with Modern Family, as well.
If it does increase, I also wonder if we’ll see if greater disclosures are required by regulator bodies. Earlier this year, the FTC updated its disclosure guidelines to help ensure things like each and every sponsored tweet is being identified. But for this show, with product placement weaved throughout, the “disclosure comes at the end” for about 3 seconds in small print:
“Promotional consideration sponsored by Ford Motor Company,” it says at the bottom. I guess that clearly explains why the Escape was so prominently positioned in this episode. Disclosure: that was sarcasm.
Missed this episode? It’s pretty funny, like all of New Girl (disclosure, I’m a former Fan Of The Week). You can watch it here on Hulu. If you’ve paid for a subscription. And even then, you won’t be able to skip the ads.