Product placement takes on new meaning

A box of Dunder Mifflin paper.

The pulse slowed today when it was reported that declining copy paper sales have sent the office supply industry looking for new marketing gimmicks.

In a business-imitates-prime-time-TV moment, Quill.com, a subsidiary of supply behemoth Staples, has announced it will launch Dunder Mifflin-branded copy paper. No joke. For those of you who can no longer afford your cable bill, Dunder Mifflin is the fictional small-town paper company forever battling the supply chain giants in NBC’s long-running Thursday night hit “The Office.”

The two-year licensing deal with NBCUniversal hints of desperation (as well as a whiff of irony), but when you take a closer look at the withering North American copy paper market, you begin to understand why Staples is willing to take the risk.

The Wall Street Journal reports today that “In the estimated $3 billion North American copy-paper market, sales have been declining at about 3 percent a year.” Reversing that trend in the age of the PDF-email-smartphone triumvirate seems analogous to swimming up the Mississippi at flood stage.

They say necessity is the mother of invention, and while colluding with the competition would no doubt make Jim, Dwight and the rest of the salesmen at the tiny fictional Scranton paper company cringe, in the real world, Staples is looking for a game-changer. Other marketers will no doubt be monitoring the success of the partnership in hopes of reviving similarly challenged products.

About the author

Joel Patterson is the Associate Producer of Marketplace Money.

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