Blog Post

How To: Place Product in Project Runway

When it comes to producing online video content, it’s important to look to television for ideas and inspiration — there is a baby in that bathwater, and in most states, throwing it out would constitute child abuse. Whether it’s a pretty baby or an ugly baby, however, is up to the eye of the beholder. One of my guilty pleasures is Project Runway, and before tonight’s new episode I wanted to take a look at how the show maximizes product placement opportunities.

You see, the whole show is basically one big advertisement for the sponsors — making it perfect to give away for free online. In fact, I’d be surprised if the sponsors weren’t effectively covering the cost of the production, leaving the producers and networks to milk the rest of the revenue as pure profit. Because the product placement in the show never ends. Sometimes subliminal, sometimes in your face, but there in nearly every shot (except the dramatic final moments of each episode, but we’ll get to that).

How much product placement can you cram into 40 minutes, between commercials? Glad you asked, because I counted.

No, this isn’t entirely scientific, and yes, I did sit there with my trigger finger on the pause button so that I wouldn’t miss a single logo or sponsor name drop. It’s a good thing San Francisco’s hometown hero Chris, who’s made it into the final five contestants, didn’t get eliminated — that would have been too much agony. So without further ado:

Sponsors mentioned in the intro: 4 (Elle, Bluefly, Saturn and TRESemmé)

Network promotions in the lower third: 3 (Make Me a Supermodel reminders, the promo for The Real Housewives of New York City, and the ever-present Bravo bug)

Calls to visit the web site: 3 (One for Tim Gunn’s blog, one for at-home cell phone voting, and the Bravo bug was animated in a shout-out to appearances: 7 (And Gunn usually reminds the designers to make use of the accessories wall — he didn’t “make it work” this time, though)

Elle Magazine mentions: 23 (22 of those thanks to framed posters in the background of the design room, a la

World Wrestling Entertainment synergy: 11 logo appearances, 3 vocal mentions and once in the show graphics (Last week’s challenge was to dress six WWE “divas”)

The New School’s Parsons Institute of Design references: 10 (Thanks to scene set-up shots and a poster in the design room)

Spandex House shout-outs: 4 (Textile retailer Mode usually gets the business — see WWE synergy challenge)

Blockbuster Total Access name drops: 4 (One by contestant Jillian, the other three thanks to carefully placed packaging as she watched a DVD of the WWE performers)

Brother sewing machine star turns: 5 (Thanks to what look like brand-new machines in the sewing room at Parsons)

New Gotham condo banner: 1 (Thanks to another scene set-up shot of where the contestants are staying)

L’Oréal Paris logo: 6 (In a scant few seconds of models getting made up)

TRESemmé Hair Care logo: 11 (Take that, L’Oréal!)

Judges with product to sell: 3 (Michael Kors of Michael Kors; Nina Garcia of Elle Magazine; Richie Rich and Trevor Rains of Heatherette)

End title “furnished by” disclaimers: 8 (Including the first mentions of Claiborne, T-Mobile, FUJIFILM and DMA)

Total sponsor mentions, audio or visual: 106

Per-minute average: 2.5

The per-minute average number is actually a bit skewed, since once you get to the part with the stylish outfits and judging, there are no longer product mentions besides the occasional title graphic with a judge’s name and employer (not to mention the implicit associations in the branded “challenges”). The show basically turns fashion into sports, and for those of us who swing both ways (that’s sports and fashion, you perverts) the branding of every nook and cranny should be all too familiar.

Mark Burnett must be kicking himself thinking how his Survivor format makes it difficult to pull in so much product placement potential — after all, it’s hard for T-Mobile to brand gum trees or stands of bamboo! So don’t make the same mistake he did as you’re honing that pitch for your break-out web video show. After all, there’s art, there’s entertainment, and there’s commerce, so be clear which of the three you’re shooting for and just maybe you’ll be “in,” and not “out,” as Klum is wont to declare.

8 Responses to “How To: Place Product in Project Runway

  1. Janko Roettgers

    You should have also included the times that you had to pause your Tivo to catch all these placements :)

    Not sure if this would work for every web show though. Reality programming is obviously much easier for prodcut placements because you don’t have to work them into the story line, and a show that has the basic premise of breaking into an industry also might help. Now if only someone made a show about getting a job in advertising …

  2. Fantastic analysis, Jackson! A+! I haven’t ever seen that show, but I know many people who are obsessed with it. I think you hit the nail on the head, though, when you point out that so many creators have creative vision, but very few of them think about commerce opportunities. Obviously, if pre-rolls aren’t working for online video, then product placement might. It’s working for Roommates (apparently).