In a recent clip of nightly news anchor Brian Williams interviewing Jerry Seinfeld released by NBCnews.com, Jerry Seinfeld quotes someone who credits him with having invented product placement by using brand names on Seinfeld. To be clear, Seinfeld states that someone else said that, not him, but he doesn’t put up much of a fight. Well, there a couple of ways to address the assertion, neither of which surrenders the credit for this invention to Seinfeld.*
In the clip, Williams and Seinfeld examine the Junior Mint brand inclusion some will remember from the episode where Kramer observes an operation and accidentally flips one of the “delicious” candies into the body cavity. While product placement generally refers to placing products in TV shows not body cavities, this is still a great hit for Junior Mints. However, according to the interview, it was an artistic choice by the writers. By this standard, I’m afraid Seinfeld (the show) is way, way late for claiming first place. We could start with the FTD logo on the window of the flower store in It’s a Wonderful Life in 1946 and work our way up from there. Inadvertent or purposeful brand inclusions have been around since the silent films.
As far as making legitimate, non-fee-based product placements on Seinfeld, well all the best entertainment marketing companies have done it. HERO provided an Isuzu Amigo and cleared the verbal reference to the car in the Puerto Rican Day parade episode, but agencies were placing brands in TV shows that way long before Seinfeld ruled the roost.
But there is one way Seinfeld did lend a hand to the development of the art of product placement; he used the brands for jokes. Many shows incorporate brands, usually because there are fees in place or a network is offering a value add to a huge commercial time buy, but virtually all of those are subject to brand messaging. For example Rebel Wilson’s since cancelled ABC show Super Fun Night clearly forged a deal with Ford Motors and the resulting “commercial” scripted into the show hit all the brand’s talking points but used its responsive power steering to completely avoid any form of continuity or humor. This can actually be damaging to the brand. But on Seinfeld the opposite is true. A Junior Mint falls into a body cavity. An Isuzu Amigo is used to set up Seinfeld’s joke, “Hey, Amigo… not you; the guy in the Amigo!”
So, while Seinfeld may not be the Christopher Columbus of product placement, the show did discover an irreverent new land for it to dwell.
*Disclaimer: We at HERO Entertainment Marketing are huge fans of both the show called Seinfeld and the human called Seinfeld. Any discussion of this particular subject is exclusive to this subject and is presented with the utmost respect for all things called Seinfeld.