There’s a silent agreement that television viewers make with the companies behind the shows they watch. We understand that our entertainment doesn’t come free, and has to be paid for somehow. That can be through commercials or sponsorships, but in today’s world it’s more often than not in the form of product placement.
In an ideal world, obnoxious product placement wouldn’t exist. Our entertainment would be left alone, untouched, and we could truly switch our brains off and immerse ourselves in escapism. Unfortunately, that’s not the world we live in. We live in this one instead:
Suits is a legal drama aired by USA Network. It’s a small show with quick-fire dialogue, smart characters, and occasional twists of humour. But product placement has been creeping into the show lately, most notably from South Korean manufacturer Samsung. The above clip was the most egregious example on the show so far, an awkward hold on a Galaxy S4 designed to show off the Multi Window feature. But the company took things to a whole new level on the latest episode:
Samsung isn’t just advertising at this point, it’s weaving itself into the very plot of the show. It’s brilliant, in a twisted sort of way. Why even bother with cutaways to the products when you can simply drill the name into the minds of millions of viewers across the world?
You could argue that the line was already blurry as is, and there have certainly been plenty of similar examples throughout history. The whole point of 1989’s The Wizard, for instance, was to shift Nintendo games and accessories, and many of Adam Sandler’s movies – most notably Jack and Jill – are intended purely to sell you junk food.
The significance of Samsung’s latest gambit lies in the way that our viewing habits have changed. We’re watching more television than ever, binging on entire seasons in one sitting thanks to services like Netflix. And the characters that we come to like and understand are with us for much longer than your average motion picture. Smart shows recognize that importance and serve up layered, rich, and interesting characters as a result. They keep us hooked. They make us want more.
Samsung is the first tech company to fully appreciate the current situation. In the eyes of a massive tech conglomerate, slowly beating your audience into submission over weeks – maybe even entire seasons – is a much better bet than simply having your latest phone show up for several seconds on camera in a film. Movies are over and done with in two hours. Television is eternal in comparison.
Using sheer brute force through a huge marketing spend is certainly one way to go about things. But man, it sure does suck the entertainment out of television.