Editorial Policy

AmEx, NBC Take TV Product Placement to the Next Level

Marcia Frellick

November 8, 2012

Imagine that, while watching a TV show, you see a piece of furniture or a kitchen appliance you’d like to have in your own home. Or maybe someone on the show is wearing a sweater you covet.

You grab your mobile phone or tablet PC, punch some keys to charge the item to your credit card account while you’re watching the show, and days later it shows up at your door.

That’s the idea behind a joint venture announced Nov. 7 by American Express and broadcasting company NBCUniversal.

Under the deal, an item selected from either Bravo’s “Life After Top Chef,” E!’s “Fashion Police,” or Style’s “Tia & Tamera” will be featured each week. Spots will run on those networks telling American Express cardholders how they can buy the item immediately. Initially, American Express is adding even more temptation to try out this new purchasing method by offering $35 to cardholders who buy an item with an eligible AmEx card they’ve synced with their Facebook or Twitter accounts.

Next step from social TV
The companies are counting on riding the wave of social TV — the concept of linking TV to social media, so you know which friends are watching the same show at the same time and can comment on it with them as though you’re crammed on the same couch. To link people’s urges with shopping capability, the companies will use zeebox, an app that lets friends chat with each other on some smartphones and tablets, or on Twitter or Facebook feeds, while they are watching the same show.

The marketing logic is simple: With TV becoming a more interactive experience, why not make it easier for people inspired by items associated with a particular show to take the next step and buy them when the urge strikes? If chef Fabio Viviani is using a knife set on his show, why shouldn’t you be able to it, too? Viewers can then use zeebox talk up the purchases with their friends in real time as well.

“We know today’s consumers are on other screens while watching television,” Linda Yaccarino, president of NBCUniversal ad sales, said in a press release. “This innovative deal is a seamless way to capture their attention around the products and experiences featured on the shows they love.”

Acting on urges has a downside
Of course, the very thing that makes it so convenient to act on your urges can also get you into a world of trouble with credit.

Marketers know that many consumers don’t have the self-control to carefully consider each purchase with this new option. Consumers lose the buffer of time that can help them decide whether they really must have that item after the excitement passes. If a show and app make it practically effortless to buy something in real time, there’s no time for that voice of reason or the sleep-on-it factor to save you from yourself.

Parents might have concerns as well, as there’s the danger of kids in your household being bombarded with the “Buy it now!” message that feeds the expectation of instant gratification. If they’re engaged in the social media aspect of this new program, their friends are getting the sales pitches at the same time, and they can talk about them on their phones and tablets. Suddenly, TV watching becomes a lot more like a trip to the mall.