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Pee Stick Product Placement

Let’s say that peanut butter sales have tanked.  The good people at Jif put their nervous little heads together and come up with a brilliant plan–they will sponsor a television show called “Jif Presents the Great Peanut Butter Cookoff.”  Each week, contestants will prepare their best recipes and the audience will cheer them on.  There will be educational information presented by an Alton Brown-like host about the nutritional qualities of peanuts or interesting facts about different peanut varieties (are there a multitude of peanut varieties?).  There would be a website where you could collect recipes that were prepared on the show, which would air on Food Network.

Would you watch it?

Honestly, I might.  If I liked peanut butter enough.  I’m their key audience–a home cook who is constantly looking for new and interesting recipes.  Plus, peanut butter is one of those staples we always have at our house so it would be an easy ingredient to use to recreate a recipe at last minute.

Now, let’s take the next step in this not-so-hypothetical situation.

What if pregnancy test sales have tanked because in this economy, people are putting off having babies.  Or they’re saving money any way they can and choosing not to test at home before a beta.

There is a Web show currently running that is sponsored by a pregnancy test company and it follows the trying-to-conceive efforts of six women.  A spokesperson/doctor offers additional fertility information on the show.  Much in the same way some people watch Super Nanny to learn parenting tricks to use with their children, some will watch this show to learn fertility tips.  Some will watch it pre-infertility diagnosis to feel less alone.  Some will watch it because they just like to watch a bunch of women stress about ovulation.

There’s little difference in my mind between the peanut butter company filling my need for recipes in order to guide me towards their product and the pee stick company filling my need for emotional connection and information in order to guide me towards their product.  And at the same time, since one speaks to my fears and anxieties, it does feel different.

Unlike cooking, trying to conceive–even when it comes easily–is usually an emotional experience.  And this pregnancy test company knows that and knows that people will watch the show because they are emotional about trying to conceive.  They might be eager to get started, or anxious that it’s not working, or depressed that they’ve been diagnosed as infertile.  The show’s participants run the gamut in terms of experience.

So is it wrong if they’re giving you something (information) and trying to soothe fears through education while at the same pushing their product by featuring it heavily on the show, having their company name in the title, and controlling the information presented as well as how it’s presented?

Regardless of whether you’d watch the show or not, how do you feel about a network having a company sponsor and create a show for them?  And is there any difference between pee sticks and peanut butter (beyond which hole each product is meant…)?


1 Emily (Apron Strings) { 05.11.10 at 12:12 pm }

Uhm … other than both starting off with the same phonetic sound / letter? Not much.

I haven’t watched the show and I understand the concept behind it … I suppose it’s not much different than MetLife sponsoring all the “Charlie Brown / Snoopy” shows … but I have to say that the concept of doing something like that for women TTC seems so TACKY.

But, of course, that’s my own humble opinion.

2 Shelli { 05.11.10 at 12:17 pm }

No, it doesn’t sit well with me at all.

But then again, I am still a little annoyed at this pee-stick manufacturer for selling the “fertility” test that shouldn’t be in a box on a shelf, but rather information obtained at a doctor’s office…

3 Chickenpig { 05.11.10 at 12:25 pm }

For some reason I keep thinking of Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. They sponsored the show, but why? Because you should buy life insurance before tracking down wild lions and elephants?

I thought that all the pee stick companies already did this, it’s called TLC daytime TV. It’s all pee sticks, diapers, and stretch mark cream.

4 Kir { 05.11.10 at 1:01 pm }

I will start by saying I hate Reality TV, I really do. I figure I have enough reality in my own life.

I will say this, when I was struggling to get PG, I would ask anyone for advice..ANYONE. I would google things and use egg whites in the bedroom. I would sit with my butt in the air and take Cough medicine every morning. I would sit on message boards all day and read every insprirational story right along side a LOT of other women struggling to get PG.

I don’t see how this show is any different. I also don’t have much of a problem with the company being the one sponsoring it…I guess I’m glad they are instead of say…”LAYS” who would have been my first choice of an infertility sponsor , or “Oreo” ..at least they have something to help with the problem of conceiving.

I guess my ick factor rests in that we’ve come to this. That with people like Bill and Guiliana and others coming out of the closet (god love them) to talk about infertility, that of course we’re going to follow some other couples, these people are interesting..right? Much the same way Super Nanny is?? ( Iwouldn’t know I don’t watch it..)

and before I forget, there are women on this show volunatarily? Yes? Ok…so here’s the deal with me. If you VOLUNTEER yourself to go through this process in front of the world, well doesn’t that lend itself to you being ok with doing this ? I guess I could say that I want to bring infertility out of the darkness (good idea in a couple of ways) and I want to have support that I can’t see but feel (Message boards and blogs did it for me the 4 yrs we tried) and if people are willing to watch it and get educated about IF , instead of thinking they know everything they need to know about TTC and how hard it really is. I guess I’m ok with it.

I have to agree with Shelli on one point and that is that some of the things they sell shouldn’t be DIY…because your problem isn’t always simple,,,or it’s both of you..etc. So I agree, that the dr’s office is the best place for answers to MOST questions about TTC.

5 cass { 05.11.10 at 1:01 pm }

In a perfect world, this might be a great idea. Maybe even supportive and helpful for those of us with experience in the trenches. Can you imagine the educational potential of a major network talking honestly about infertility and the challenges of TTC? I don’t have high hopes of that happening here, however. My stomach turns a little at the product placement, and drops a little further when I think about how much potential this could have for educating people about infertility – and how badly they could screw this up. On the other hand, if they do it well, I suppose it could be helpful. Can you imagine a whole segment of people saying stupid things to the TTC couples (“just relax” or “there’s still time” or “have you tried standing on your head/taking cough syrup/doing acupuncture”), and then a whole barrage of witty comebacks? It would be fun to watch!

And also. The sponsored-program idea isn’t new. It’s been a while since television utilized such an obviously sponsor-based model, but it looks like we’re moving back in that direction to counter the new modes of tv-viewing (time-shifted and internet-streamed, think TiVo and Hulu) that enables people to more easily skip through commercials. This show’s tie-in *feels* a lot different from the peanut butter example, but from a media perspective it’s not surprising, and I won’t be surprised to see more of this coming down the pipeline. Doesn’t mean I’ll WATCH, though!

6 Busted Kate { 05.11.10 at 1:10 pm }

Um, I’m sort of on the fence about this. If they do the show in an educational and supportive way, I think it would be great to bring more attention and support to Infertility. And heaven knows we need to do everything we can to bring infertility out of the dark shadows of our society.

However, if this show is just to create hysteria… to make women worry so they will buy their product, well obviously thats not a good thing.

So I guess I’ll have to check it out and see how they do it.

7 N { 05.11.10 at 1:11 pm }

It definitely seems tacky to me, and like emotional blackmail, but from an objective point of view, there’s not really anything *wrong* with it. And as, I’m sure, many a marketing person said in a meeting – it’s aimed at people who are going to be buying pee sticks anyway, so why not [our] brand?

8 a { 05.11.10 at 1:26 pm }

I’m of the opinion that Reality TV is necessarily tacky – if it weren’t, people wouldn’t watch. I mean, a reality show based on my life? In theory, it would be great – I have a job in a popular field, I am dealing with family illnesses, I have a defiant and obstinate 3 year old. In reality….SNOOOOORE. No one would watch.

I think it’s a way to get exposure in the marketplace – both for the sponsor and for the idea of fertility/infertility. Is it the best way? Maybe not, but it will probably attract more viewership than a dry (or even lively) documentary with a couple personal anecdotes.

As far as product placement in general…well, it doesn’t really bother me. In fact, it often has the opposite of its intended effect. When I see an obvious product placement, I point and laugh. I don’t have a hankering to buy that product. For hpts specifically…they all do the same thing, more or less. So if this company wants to spend their advertising money in this way, it’s probably a pretty clever ploy that will succeed in planting their name at the top of every woman’s list when she goes to buy a test.

9 TexasRed { 05.11.10 at 1:48 pm }

I’m on the fence about this for all the reasons people have said above. Not hopeful that it will be done in a calm, educational way (because showing/ making people crazy boosts ratings).

I guess my bigger surprise is that the pee stick company is spending marketing money this way. I guess I don’t care much about the brand of pee stick I’m using. I’m going to go for whatever is at eye level at the grocery store before anyone notices what I’m buying — then go home, use it, and throw it away. I figured these manufacturers would be spending more money on making sure stores put them at eye level, not sponsoring TV shows.

10 PaleMother { 05.11.10 at 2:22 pm }

I don’t have a problem with it. Consumers are pretty savvy these days and not so easy to manipulate. Buyer (and marketers, for that matter) beware. But then … my husband and I are marketers, so maybe we are desensitized to the tactics companies to pursue loyalty through information/service forms of marketing. Besides, anything that raises fertility and infertility awareness … can’t be all bad — as long as the info is thoroughly qualified and it’s not skewed in any way that it misleads people to suit the marketer’s purpose (sale$$)?

Sure. Their reasons for providing the ‘service’ are mercenary and not strictly philanthropic. But is the end result (the program) helpful?

Blogger is ‘free’ to bloggers. Someone hopes to make money off the enterprise. Are they sleazy for providing the service in exchange for content? Maybe this isn’t the best example (I know nothing about blogger’s business model) …

TTC’ers may be more emotionally vulnerable than peanut butter consumers, but they are not more ~stupid~ than the average bear. In fact, given the infertile and subfertile ttc’ers I’ve known, I’d say they are above average and quite able to decide for themselves whether a marketer’s message and product is on the up and up.

Advertising always seeks to create and exploit and emotional connection. There is a lot of emotion to be mined in TTC and baby products. Whether or not the advertising money is used for good or evil … depends on the quality of the product itself and on the quality of the people running the company.

My first best, job in advertising was as a senior art director for Enfamil infant formula. The campaign that I worked on was the same concept as the pee stick program you describe … a very elaborate (beautifully designed and photographed and written 😉 series of booklets and brochures … one set targeted to first time parents, a different stream for “multips” … with articles and info in it. We gave info on breastfeeding as well as formula feeding and always proclaimed that “breast was best” … formula was a ‘helpful’ second alternate if it didn’t work out.

Did it work? I don’t know. They spent a lot of money on it (which was nice for me;I got some great portfolio pieces). Did people really read what we wrote and use the info we provided? I don’t know. I know later, as a new parent myself, I tuned out most attempts to advertise to me. Mail me a can of formula or some checks/coupon$$? You’ve got my attention. The rest is WAHwahWAH.

11 Battynurse { 05.11.10 at 2:48 pm }

So I’m really not into the whole reality TV thing. So would I watch?? Likely not. That said I don’t know that I have a huge problem with it as I’m still going to make my own decisions about what I buy and when and what brand, usually those decisions are based on cost. I know that when I first started all this TTC business I went anywhere I could possibly go to gain information. Now I’m a bit pickier about my sources but still. It could be helpful to someone.
I will say though that there is another blogger who is a patient of the doctor on the show and she was a bit put off by the show and the fact that it was her doctor.

12 Another Dreamer { 05.11.10 at 3:21 pm }

It doesn’t sit well with me, but it does happen all the time. Product placement happens in movies (remember Wayne’s World poking fun at the advertising? Or that movie that was just a Seltzen Blue commercial?), television shows (there was an entire episode of Sex and the City sponsered by Absolut Vodka, and advertised it heavily the entire episode. Alchol ads on tv shows) So- yeah, it doesn’t sit well with me at all. I ignore it, but it isn’t doesn’t seem to be going anywhere in this society.

Would I watch it? No, I don’t think so. Would I have before IF… I might have, I mean I watched god knows how many episodes of A Baby Story before I realized that won’t probably ever be me.

13 Lorin { 05.11.10 at 3:50 pm }

I think its cool, actually – though I would prefer it if it was on-air, not web only. I think most women savvy enough to use the web for answers when they’re TTC already have resources, whereas on TV most of the time, you’d never know infertility existed (at least not in an educational way). As long as the advertiser is upfront about their involvement, that part doesn’t bother me.

14 Keiko { 05.11.10 at 4:43 pm }

I was hoping you’d post about this. When I was first reading the article online in the NYT, it really sat weird with me. Product placements though, in our rather brand-centered consumerist culture, are hardly anything new, but when you focus it on such a sensitive subject, I don’t know – rubs me the wrong way. On the other hand, and not that I would wish any ill will on these couples participating: what if none of them conceive in the given time frame? What if all of the traditional expectations of baby making are summarily dismissed by this one show? What if this show could become an incredible catalyst for building awareness around infertility?

Am I going to watch the show? Probably not. But I am interested to see where it goes, although disturbed at the precedent it sets with regard to advertising, online only format, and reality TV (I could go on for hours about the general impact a show could have on media/comm in general).

15 Kate (Bee In The Bonnet) { 05.11.10 at 5:57 pm }

I heard about this earlier and I really wondered about it. Because in truth, like you said, this is an extremely emotionally charged topic. And frankly, First Response did nothing to aid in my conception struggles, other than provide completely frustrating and fruitless OPK tests that proved to be totally unnecessary. I don’t know since I haven’t seen the web shows yet, but First Response’s products seem to be centered around assisting the female half of the couple. And as we all know, that’s only half of the equation. Do the fertility specialists advise on factors that cannot be diagnosed/tracked, whatever, by First Response products? Because that just seems wrong somehow. I mean, real struggles with conception require far more than sticks upon which one pees.

Which leads me to a different point– I think I might feel differently were the shows sponsored by Menop.ur or Clomi.d, or by a certain fertility clinic, because that would indicate to me that the conception efforts are being taken seriously and being treated as the medical issue that they are, not just like it’s a drug-store game.

I don’t know. I really don’t have harsh feelings about First Response as a company (I still have five progressively darker First Response brand pee sticks that were my first indication that the boys were on their way– I cannot bring myself to throw them out), but it just doesn’t seem to sit well with me because their products are intended for people for whom conception won’t be so much of a “journey” as a “quick trip to the convenience store down the street”. Perhaps I’m simply jealous of the normally fertile, but I keep picturing myself being on that show, struggling with month after month of piddling on sticks, and wondering why this product wasn’t working for me. Perhaps the rest of the couples will all happily conceive in the seven month time frame or whatever, but it just makes me worry about the ones who won’t.

16 Bionic Baby Mama { 05.11.10 at 7:29 pm }

both are sort of annoying, but the peanut butter is much less so.

the difference to me is that nobody thinks you’re a bad person (etc.) if you can’t or don’t make peanut butter cookies. the pee sticks, on the other hand — that’s so nakedly playing on people’s fears. yuck.

17 Baby Smiling In Back Seat { 05.11.10 at 10:24 pm }

What makes me most uncomfortable is that the quick successes will be attributed to the product. “I conceived the first month. It must be because I used the OPK!”

I also don’t like the fact that it’s training women to use lots of pee sticks. I know there are plenty of pee stick addicts around, but personally I usually waited for my period (since short luteal phase was a big problem for me, I rarely had to wait very long). If I’d used as many HPT and OPK kits as I’m sure the series will depict, I’d have spent literally thousands of dollars over the years just on those.

One weird thing is that it seems like once there’s a BFP, they’d stop following the person’s story, but if they keep getting BFNs they’ll keep following. So, the stories that viewers will get most invested in are the ones that don’t go as well.

Overall I prefer outright sponsorship to sneaky subliminal product placement.

18 Terry Elisabeth { 05.12.10 at 3:06 pm }

I would watch a show about women freaking about ovulation and fertility if there were tips and if it was not sponsored by a pee-on stick. I am worried about my ovulation, I stress about my fertility chances now that I’m nearing 36. To me it’s different from PB because I like PB but I don’t need recipes to use it.

19 nonlineargirl { 05.13.10 at 12:22 am }

There is a qualitative but key difference between a company sponsoring a show (wild kingdom or otherwise) and providing the content. Networks are reasonably accepting advertising so they can pay for programming. Getting their content provided to them is maybe not as horrid as a newspaper allowing an advertiser to write articles about how great the advertiser’s business is, but almost. And at least as annoying (whether it is peanut butter or pee sticks).

20 Decemberbaby { 05.13.10 at 9:15 pm }

In terms of companies sponsoring a show and providing the content, isn’t that basically the way shows like “Dora the Explorer” work? They create a marketable character, write an entire show about her, and then live off the merchandising.

21 Linda @ I've Got Bad Plumbing { 05.15.10 at 11:11 am }

We all know that public TV has gone down the toilet so I’m not surprised about anything that happens there (i.e., reality tv) or that the masses will watch it and react. It’s probably like Jerry Springer meets the Pregnancy Channel?

I disagree with the one poster who said that tests such as these belong in a doctor’s office: technology has allowed us the freedom of testing at home without needing to take a morning off of work to see a doctor, make a $35 copayment for the appointment, etc. Why on earth would we ever want to put this power 100% back in the hands of physicians when we have access to lab quality POAS tests on Amazon for very little?

But I digress. In the end, I really don’t care if companies create programs for TV Channels because I don’t watch them. Or I might, now that you’ve brought it up, only to find myself pissed off at the content (and then I wouldn’t watch again). I feel sorta bad for the people who watch them and don’t know any better though.

22 Brian { 06.16.10 at 5:20 pm }

I think that I might be the only man on this reply, but since I am both a marketer and went through 3 years of infertility I am sort of an expert on the subject. I have no problem with the company sponsorship of the show or them highlighting there product. I will respond to some of the comments here though.

It is not that easy to just buy space anymore and especially eye level space, you have to have success stories, so if this leads to greater sales for the mfr, then they stand a better chance of getting that key location at retail.

I think it was completely missed that sales for this product may be suffering because infertility has become such a bigger problem as many couples wait to have children and that most families are not having the number of children as they used to. This in itself makes this a double whammy for the mfr. not only are they furthering the education of just how big a problem infertility has become but they are offering a product that makes it easier for those already going through it to “check” their status. Yes the doctor should be the one you go to for answers and for most of your services, but sometimes it is nice just to check at home. And in my experience, the doctor is not always that comforting, they see so much of the problem they can no longer make it personal for the patient, so the show, if it truly offers insight, guidance and an ear to bend when things are good, bad or indifferent, i say hooray to that.

Thats about all I have to say. I really don’t think the Peanut Bar analogy was a good one for this discussion, but then again I am not sure what would be!

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