Working in the ad industry, my friends and family like to ask me questions like, How much did they pay for that commercial? How did they get that celebrity to be in their ad? And then I have to explain that buying media isn’t like ordering off a take-out menu or referring to Ikea assembly instructions. It makes me realize how much people are aware of being marketed to, and that people are increasingly curious about how it all happens and the money that goes into it.
After sadly watching the EPIC series finale of Breaking Bad last night, my husband started to ask me about “all the product placement” in the show and how much I thought those brands paid to be included in such a highly rated show. It was a good question. A lot of the brand appearances in the show were memorable. It wasn’t Splenda that Ms. Quayle was putting in her Chamomile tea with soy milk – it was Stevia. And it wasn’t a Kia Sportage that Walt drove – it was a Pontiac Aztek.
But the more I thought about it, something told me that Winnebago doesn’t really want people to consider how perfectly its recreational vehicles can be converted into mobile meth labs. And call me crazy but Denny’s probably doesn’t want to be known as a great morning hangout for drug kingpins. Right? Product placements were always meant to be a controlled way to incorporate a product into a highly visible environment, but one that was brand-safe. In the case of Breaking Bad, the environment is as grim as it gets – drugs, murder, mayhem. So which of those brands wanted to pay to “break bad” into Breaking Bad and which were innocent bystanders?
Here is a short list of brands I was most curious about:
1. Winnebago: The original meth lab of choice by Walter White and Jesse Pinkman. Complete with sleeping quarters and plenty of privacy — a must-have when cooking meth for days in the middle of the New Mexican desert.
2. Denny’s: You know, the place where meth chefs and murderers go for a Grand Slam.
3. Fruit Loops: Cute little Brock is eating a bowl of this cereal and Walt comments on how great it is. Truth, Walt.
4. Stevia: Lydia Quayle has to ask for extra Stevia every time she has her meth business meetings in a cafe. I actually started to get annoyed for her by the end…hope she didn’t leave a big tip.
5. Ben & Jerry’s: Todd served Jesse some Americone Dream in his prison pit. And by served, I mean it was lowered to him in a bucket.
6. Dodge: Walt Jr aka Flynn gets a Dodge Challenger. Walt ends up blowing it up after getting a little too artistic with his tires’ donut design in a parking lot.
7. Funyuns: Jesse’s snack of choice. He proclaims, “Funyuns are awesome” as he tears into three bags of them.
8. Hello Kitty: There’s just something amusing about a meth cook shouting at his partner through a pink and white Hello Kitty phone.
9. Rage: While Jesse mopes and binges on drugs in his house, he played this game to let off some steam. Something tells me Mario Cart wouldn’t have done the job.
10. Koala Kare: This baby changing station brand appeared in a scene in which Walt stopped at a public restroom to change baby Holly’s diaper – after abducting her, of course.
From what I’ve read, it appears that out of this list, the show only did paid product placements for Dodge and Rage. And apparently several brands turned down the show when asked to appear, like Olive Garden and Chili’s. Those brands missed out on a great opportunity. Audiences are smarter than we give them credit for. They don’t decide against buying a Pontiac Aztek because they associate it with a meth druglord from a TV series. (They don’t buy one because they are ugly as sin. But I digress…). Brands should feel safer in fictional environments when the production value and audience retention is so stellar.
So, much like a multi-million dollar meth operation, product placement can be tricky business. But as it fades into my Netflix history, I applaud Breaking Bad for keeping the series’ integrity. They didn’t “sell out” with too much product placement and they seamlessly weaved real brands into the characters’ lives making it seem just a tad more realistic. So, what brands did you notice in the show that you thought were product placement advertising that didn’t make my list? More importantly, what show am I supposed to watch now that Breaking Bad is over?