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Products Aplenty in 'The Starter Wife'

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Products Aplenty in 'The Starter Wife'

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Products Aplenty in 'The Starter Wife'

Products Aplenty in 'The Starter Wife'

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The new television mini-series The Starter Wife is awash in Pond's beauty cream. From the online magazine Slate, a look at the latest efforts at product placement in the new USA Network miniseries.

ALEX COHEN, host:

Tonight the USA Network premieres a new mini-series called "The Starter Wife," starring Debra Messing as a jilted Hollywood spouse.

But you probably knew that already because "The Starter Wife" ads are everywhere. And so is the product placement. Seth Stevenson covers the ad business for the online magazine Slate, and he says the film's deal with Pond's beauty products is unprecedented.

SETH STEVENSON: Branded entertainment has been around forever. What's remarkable about "The Starter Wife" is how intertwined the marketing effort is with the creative effort. Pond's involvement goes beyond mere sponsorships, ads and contests.

Pond's identified the project as a good match early on in its development stage and became an underwriter. In exchange for financing, Pond's was allowed to put its marketing agents in the room with "The Starter Wife"'s writers during the scripting process. Among the things Pond's got for its money were a few key signature moments in which an onscreen interaction with the Pond's brand triggers a thought or motivation in a character.

I watched the first half of "The Starter Wife" with a keen eye out for Pond's contributions. Initially I was disappointed. While the first hour saw placements for both Blackberry and the Lafite-Rothschild wine, there was nary a Pond's product in sight. In the second hour, there was a glancing encounter but so subtle as to be easily missed. Messing's character is preparing for her first date after her marriage has broken up.

(Soundbite of "The Starter Wife")

Ms. DEBRA MESSING (Actress): (As Molly Kagan) But I'm ready. Going to shake things up a little, stop feeling sorry for myself. I'm going to floss.

Mr. STEVENSON: Meanwhile, she's slathering some sort of liquid on her face. Connoisseurs will identify the tube she's holding as Pond's Smooth Perfection Moisturizer, but the label is mostly concealed by her hand. In hour three, though, the marketing fury is unleashed. During a dream sequence, Messing is interrogated by a pair of detectives.

(Soundbite of "The Starter Wife")

Unidentified Man #1: You expect us to believe that a dame like you, who's used to snapping her fingers and the guys come running...

Unidentified Man #2: She didn't say that.

Ms. MESSING: I wasn't positive he was coming.

Unidentified Man #2: Did you cook?

Unidentified Man #1: Easy, Joe.

Unidentified Man #2: Did you cook?

Ms. MESSING: Yes, yes I cooked.

Mr. STEVENSON: They point the flashlight in her face and mention those bags under your eyes. Cut to Messing a week, in front of the bathroom mirror again, dabbing some cream on the offending area. The camera lingers on the label as she sets her bottle of Pond's Age-Defy down on the counter.

This is more than simple product placement. The character is actually using the stuff, and there's a related line of dialogue. But I'm still not sure if this scene qualifies as a signature moment. It could be there's something more dramatic coming later in the series - perhaps a hunky young beau will apply a tub of Pond's Time Rewind wrinkle cream to Messing's face as he tells her he loves her just the way she is.

It's advertising's constant mission to creep into every corner of our lives. Physical space has been invaded. I can't go to the restroom these days without seeing a print ad over the urinal. Entertainment news has been infiltrated. Breaking: Lindsay Lohan drank Grey Goose vodka while wearing Dior at the Playstation 3 launch party.

And creative content has never been immune. The old radio soap operas were filled with breaks where the characters would pause to hawk some product. The obvious next step was for marketers to co-opt the entire creative process. They no longer come in at the end and wedge their message into the story; they come in at the beginning and mould the story around their message.

I've grown weary of bothering to resist this kind of marketing encouragement. It's inevitable, and nothing will stop it. It's only a matter of time before a $100 million-film gets completely underwritten by some major brand. Still, seeing a ham-handed product insertion in the creative work will always bum me out.

But take heart, those of you who despise this trend; there may be limits to how fully a brand can enmesh itself in content. Bud TV was considered the first marketer-created multi-channel online television network, according to AdAge. It was an effort to produce and distribute entertainment entirely under the aegis of a retail brand. It posts lots of comedy shorts and bikini videos, and it's not doing so hot, which somehow gives me solace.

COHEN: Seth Stevenson writes the Ad Report Card for Slate magazine.

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