Extreme Makeover: A Product Placement Dream

David Kiley

ABC's Extreme Makeover sucked me in for two or three episodes. The drama of down and out or otherwise victimized families getting a real house to live in makes for good story telling. But beyond that, it's probably the best example of appropriate product placement on the air today.

Product placement will reach about $4.25 billion this year, according to PQ Media. That's a 23% surge from a year earlier. As more and more consumers, like me, skip more and and more ads via a DVR, the 30-second commercial is going the way of the nightly network newscast.

Many product placement deals are obnoxious and ham-fisted. The Apprentice comes to mind. Extreme Makeover has several sponsors with prominent placement deals: Sears, Ford and Pella Windows to name three. Seeing the designers go off to Sears every episode and deck out the house with Kenmore appliances, is not just a sponsorship, it's integral to the subject family getting their lives back. The best looking Sears products are featured, so the whole deal is far better than any 30-second ad the department store's ad agencies have created in 20 years. Pella windows, likewise, is nicely showcased in the show without being obnoxious about it. And, of course, Ford, is the one providing vehicles to the family. What's a new garage without new sheetmetal in it?

Here is one caveat on the reality show as product-placement canvas: how many of these can people watch before it gets old. I've seen three episodes, and I feel like I have seen all the ones I missed and all the shows they'll ever do. Down and out family, war widow or handicapped person lives in a shack. Ty Pennington arrives and builds a showplace in a week with round-the-clock crews. The crews don't think they will make the deadline. They miraculously do. Family comes back to showplace. Everybody cries. This show faces the same problem Pennington's old show, Trading Spaces, has faced. It all gets old, fast! Unlike the long running Law & Order, whose story format doesn't change, the writing and acting isn't good enough on reality shows to sustain itself for very long.

And here's a pet peeve. In one of the shows I saw, one of the kids was given something like five electric guitars. The show has a tendency to drift to excess. I wonder about what happens in some of these neighborhoods full of tumble-down houses that suddenly has a house worth seven times as much or more than any other house on the block and the family got it all for free. Envy can be an ugly thing. What's that dynamic like after a while?

But, hey. That's me. Some fifteen million people are watching Extreme Makeover, about twice the number that reads this blog every day (I wish). And it's the best ad buy Sears has made in a long time.

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