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Product placement lessons from ‘The Walking Dead’

Nova Safo Oct 22, 2014

Product placement lessons from ‘The Walking Dead’

Nova Safo Oct 22, 2014

The long partnership between a band of survivors in the zombie apocalypse and their Hyundai SUV has ended.

The advertising deal between Hyundai and the AMC series The Walking Dead – which had 17 million people tune in for its season five premiere earlier this month – is over. That gleaming, never-out-of-gas, never-dented vehicle is no more. 

Hyundai says it is very happy with its partnership, and it’s gotten a lot of attention on TV and online from Generation Y. But alas, the car maker had to end its product placement deal because the show went in another direction creatively, and the characters have been doing a lot more walking and a lot less driving. 

“It was a great run with the franchise. We were lucky enough to get in early… The partnership exceeded our expectations in its ability to connect with a passionate fan base, keep the brand in the cultural conversation around this growing phenomenon and shift opinion and consideration for the brand,” Jim Trainor of Hyundai Motor America said in a written statement. “We were sad to see the characters leave our car behind in the storyline but remain active advertisers.” 

Fans have indeed noticed the Hyundai’s presence on the show. The group Warp Zone, which creates YouTube parodies, even took on the seeming zombie invulnerability of the Hyundai SUV. 

“It kind of almost doesn’t make sense in the context that it’s in, like it should be bloodied up and have more damage to it,” says Brian Fisher, a member Warp Zone and one of the zombies in the video. 

It would make more sense if it was a gritty truck in the show instead of a family SUV, says Damaris Valero, author of the book “Branded Entertainment: Dealmaking Strategies & Techniques for Industry Professionals.”

Valero says it’s no longer enough to just place a brand into a storyline, the two have to make sense together.

“And in that way people are not really feeling like they’re being sold a product, or a logo,” she says, adding that product placement is more successful when there’s interaction between brand and story. 

Think of the Mini Coopers in “The Italian Job,” or the Aston Martins and BMWs in the Bond movies. 

Advertisers are becoming more savvy to the nuances of product placement and branded entertainment, Valero says, and they are asking to have input into the content creation process.

“A lot of times they are allowed to sit with the script writers, so that [the writers] are able to understand what the brand stands for, so that they can capture the essence of that brand,” Valero says. 

Whatever the terms, brands are seeing benefits, if their growing numbers in TV and film are any indication. About a decade ago, the James Bond film “Die Another Day” made headlines for having 20 marketing partners. Last year, the latest Superman movie had 100

“The product placement market is huge,” says Paul Dergarabedian, a senior analyst with Rentrak. TV advertisers will spend $6 billion on branded content this year, according to Dergarabedian. That’s still less than 10 percent of traditional TV ad spending, but it’s a growing piece of the pie. 

“Particularly in the world of DVRing a show – you may have a lot of people skipping commercials. Well then you have to weave those products into the show,” Dergarabedian says.  

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