LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:
Commercially speaking, Heineken was integrated into "Mad Men." Heineken paid to have "Mad Men's" writing staff work it into one of the show's major plots. Product integration is the next generation of product placement. And NPR's Neda Ulaby reports we'll be seeing a lot of it during the fall season.
NEDA ULABY: When executives at television networks talk about product integration, they favor a word more often associated with high-end environmentally friendly groceries.
Mr. CHRIS MCCUMBER (Marketing, USA Network): Organically, does it work in the story? Organically, does it work for the brand?
ULABY: Chris McCumber handles marketing for USA Network shows, including "Monk," "Burn Notice," and "The Starter Wife."
Mr. MCCUMBER: Any time you do a product integration, it goes well beyond just putting a product in a show. It's about finding a unique characteristic about your advertiser that fits seamlessly and organically into the character and the feeling of the show.
ULABY: So, for example, "The Starter Wife" is about a 40-something woman recently divorced from a powerful Hollywood mogul. The season begins with her anxiety dream about being too old to dance.
(Soundbite of TV show "The Starter Wife")
Ms. DEBRA MESSING: (As Molly Kagan) I could chase a man down the beach for a kiss.
Unidentified Actor #1: With those bags under your eyes?
ULABY: She wakes up and applies skin care products made by Ponds. The camera lingers on the label. Similar connections between characters and cars appear on "Burn Notice," and a new show on NBC.
(Soundbite of TV show "My Own Worst Enemy")
Unidentified Announcer #1: One man, two very different lives. "My Own Worst Enemy."
ULABY: Christian Slater plays a character with two different personalities. You can tell which one he is in part by which kind of Chevy he drives. But writing products into stories is harder to pull off on a show like NBC's "30 Rock," which is sort of a meta-show about a TV show. So, integrating products, like in this conversation between characters played by Alec Baldwin and Tina Fey, becomes meta, too.
(Soundbite of TV show "30 Rock")
Mr. ALEC BALDWIN: (As Jack Donaghy) These Verizon Wireless phones are just so popular I accidentally grabbed one belonging to an acquaintance.
Ms. TINA FEY: (As Liz Lemon) Well, sure, because that Verizon Wireless service is just unbeatable. And if I saw a phone like that on TV, I would be like, where is my nearest retailer so I can get one?
ULABY: Then Tina Fey looks directly at the camera.
(Soundbite of TV show "30 Rock")
Ms. TINA FEY: (As Liz Lemon) Can we have our money now?
ULABY: The moment works, says Lou Rossi, precisely because Fey makes fun of what she's doing. Rossi directs media and sponsorship for Verizon Wireless. He says the company had no problem accommodating the sensibility of "30 Rock's" staff.
Mr. LOU ROSSI (Director, Media and Sponsorships, Verizon Wireless): You really do need the alignment with the producers and the writers, as well as your network partner, to really execute the best possible product integration. Otherwise, it won't look organic or natural to the storyline, and that's the last thing that we want to do.
ULABY: Organically, identifying products with characters is just one facet of a complicated campaign. So, Rossi says, on the CW soap opera "Gossip Girl," nearly everybody uses Verizon Wireless phones.
(Soundbite of TV show "Gossip Girl")
Unidentified Actor #2: Hey. Hey, it's me.
Unidentified Actress: Hey, you. Did you get my message?
Unidentified Actor #2: Yeah. Yeah, and listen, before you say anything else, I just want to let you know that...
ULABY: But it doesn't end there. The show's stars make promotional appearances at Verizon Wireless stores, and countless other strategies entice "Gossip Girl" fans to use the company's products.
(Soundbite of TV show "Gossip Girls")
Unidentified Announcer #2: Tonight's "Gossip Girl" featured music by The Fratellis.
ULABY: Every "Gossip Girl" episode ends the same way, with a not-so-subtle reminder.
(Soundbite of TV show "Gossip Girls")
Unidentified Announcer #2: Verizon Wireless customers, get music from "Gossip Girl" sent straight to your phone by texting music to 8905.
ULABY: Only people watching the show see that number. So, says media director Lou Rossi, Verizon Wireless can track every text. It knows exactly how effective the product integration is.
Mr. ROSSI: We can push specific music, or text trivia polls, or some other things. We actually get an indication of how many people are participating in the program.
ULABY: Not everyone finds this new age of product integration so thrilling. Among them TV writers now expected to script products into story arcs and plot lines. Phil Rosenthal created the show "Everybody Loves Raymond." Earlier this year he testified before Congress about the dangers of product integration.
Mr. PHIL ROSENTHAL (Writer, "Everybody Loves Raymond"): As writers we believe our creative rights are affected when we're told we must incorporate a commercial product into the storylines we've written. Actors are subjected to forced endorsement when their character must extol the virtues of a product for the public. Product integration exploits the emotional connection viewers have with shows and their characters in order to sell merchandise.
ULABY: Those sentiments are shared by a watchdog group called Commercial Alert. It's tracked product placement and product integration for years. Managing Director Robert Weissman says it's never before been so sophisticated or insidious.
Mr. ROBERT WEISSMAN (Managing Director, Commercial Alert): For younger kids, it's not even clear what the distinction is between ads and regular programming. When the ads are actually integrated into the programs in a way that a regular adult can't figure out, there's no way for children to understand.
ULABY: We adults might think we're savvy, says Weissman, but we see so much of what he calls deceptive advertising, he thinks we might not even realize the extent to which it occurs. He believes the government should limit product integration. Producer Phil Rosenthal in his testimony agreed.
Mr. ROSENTHAL: Would we have wanted our memories of "Casablanca" to be Bogart saying to Ingrid Bergman as they said goodbye, you're part of his life, the thing that keeps him going. Now get on that plane and enjoy United's nonstop three-class service to Paris with seats that recline a full 180 degrees?
ULABY: Rosenthal belongs to the Writer's Guild of America which wants something on screen to disclose whenever products appear. That solution has not delighted viewers already annoyed by the parade of pop-ups, crawls, and banners cluttering the lower third of our TVs. Neda Ulaby, NPR News.
WERTHEIMER: By the way, Ira Glass's "This American Life," the TV version on Showtime, won two Emmys last night. This is Morning Edition from NPR News, I'm Linda Wertheimer.
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
And I'm Steve Inskeep.