This Plug's For You Kid

A goofy thing about 1950s TV shows was how unabashedly they plugged products. Milton Berle looked in the camera and talked about splendiferous Buicks. Dinah Shore sang and danced to See the U.S.A. in Your Chevrolet so joyfully you expected a '57 Impala and Bel Air to join her on stage for a conga line. We've come a long way from such old-timey approaches, right? Wrong. Product placement is alive and

A goofy thing about 1950s TV shows was how unabashedly they plugged products.

Milton Berle looked in the camera and talked about splendiferous Buicks. Dinah Shore sang and danced to “See the U.S.A. in Your Chevrolet” so joyfully you expected a '57 Impala and Bel Air to join her on stage for a conga line.

We've come a long way from such old-timey approaches, right?

Wrong. Product placement is alive and well and living in the 21st century.

“Product placement is very important if it makes sense,” says Christine MacKenzie, executive director of multi-brand marketing and ad agency relations for DaimlerChrysler.

It means working with Hollywood studios to get your vehicles “in trailers and posters as well as the movies themselves,” she says. She proudly notes that in this year's movie, “Firewall,” Harrison Ford races around in a Chrysler 300.

So what's new? In 1964's “Goldfinger,” a character drives a Lincoln Continental past Ford dealerships, then stops inches from the camera, providing an extreme close up of the car's front badge. That's a wrap.

But it is TV that pulls out all the plugs when it comes to product plugging.

MacKenzie seems to herald product placement as part of a brave new world of marketing.

From my overdone TV viewing as a kid in the 1950s, I tell her that product placement doesn't seem all that new-age. Even back then, I thought it was as hokey as coon-skin hats.

“You can't go overboard,” she tells me of today's efforts. “It has to feel right and be ‘organic.’ I hate to use that word, but it's applicable.”

I hate to say it, but I'm unimpressed with some of today's product placements. Such as DaimlerChrysler using the A&E reality TV show “Inked” to show off the new Dodge Caliber.

“Inked” provides a look inside a Las Vegas tattoo parlor, showing plenty of employee personality clashes and petty quarrels when workers are not disfiguring customers, whose idea of “cool” is a snake tattoo winding up their necks.

The Caliber makes the Vegas scene when shop apprentice “Dizzle” drives around in one after “tattooing” it. “I'm going to pimp it out and make it look sweet,” he says.

If that doesn't feel right, chill old dawg. It's in the hood of hip marketing initiatives that are “not for people like you and me,” says MacKenzie. “It's a great way to get the Caliber out in front of young people.”

She also talks of giving away a Caliber on “The Ellen Degeneres Show.” Hey, Oprah gave away 276 Pontiac G6s on her show, when Pontiac was in primo promo form with all sorts of schemes. Those included hyping the Solstice on Donald Trump's reality TV show, “The Apprentice.”

Mark-Hans Richer, Pontiac's marketing and advertising director, recalls that just before one shoot, Trump “was standing next to me and said, ‘Tell me something about the car.’ I said, ‘Well, it's a sexy, gorgeous 2-seater.’ When the shoot started, he looked at the camera and said, ‘This is a sexy, gorgeous 2-seater.’”

Product plugging doesn't get any better than that.

Steve Finlay is editor of Ward's Dealer Business. He is at [email protected]

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