The branding and entertainment worlds were abuzz over the product-placement grand slam scored by Apple when its iPad was featured in an episode of ABC’s hit comedy, Modern Family, just before the iPad debuted a few weeks ago. Forget "featured"—the show was practically a half-hour infomercial for the iPad.
Less noticed but just as effective for its brand has been OnStar’s product-placement arrangement with Human Target, an action series that just wrapped its first, chase-filled season on FOX last week.
General Motors’ satellite-powered “telematics” brand was featured prominently in the bodyguard drama starring Mark Valley. “It became a great opportunity for us to showcase some things,” Andrew Young, OnStar’s marketing director, told Brandchannel.
One episode, set in Alaska, explicitly showed off OnStar’s ability to get live navigational help in remote places. In another episode, two characters in a Camaro relied on OnStar’s turn-by-turn navigation service to get somewhere in a hurry.
“OnStar turns out to be a pretty good device for shows that want to write-in communications in a vehicle environment," said Young. "We get a great deal of organic integration because writers and producers of shows know that [OnStar] is a unique capability—and they find uses for it.”
Human Target started with a ratings bang but lost some momentum among viewers as it closed the season in its regular Wednesday-night time slot. Its finale averaged 7.2 million viewers, scoring a 1.9 Nielsen rating with adults 18-49, a 14% drop for the series in that demo.
Young notes that OnStar’s integration into Human Target's storylines showcased not only the service, but how GM’s branded-entertainment unit is seeking new media opportunities and partnerships to showcase its brands.
The unit also worked with Discovery's Call 911 series to prominently features OnStar operators helping emergency personnel reach accident victims, similar to OnStar’s true-story radio commercials.
“Credible placements are the only ones that make sense,” Young says. “They have to be a natural evolution of what takes place in real life.”
So as long as real people have car accidents—and action shows need chase scenes—expect to see a lot more of OnStar on TV.