Product Placement Is Becoming a Real Snooze

Mattress companies are sponsoring a Web series about sleeping. That doesn't sound like a great way to have fun in bed...

You would think the last thing an advertiser would want is to put the audience to sleep.

But the old rules apparently are being put to bed these days as advertising seems to be turning more toward the subliminal than the sensational.

In the latest – and perhaps most oddly amusing – example of product placement, a group backed by mattress companies is sponsoring a Web video series promoting sleeping.

Not sleeping together, or sleeping around, mind you – just old-fashioned, wholesome sawing wood, in a healthful, fitful way.

An outfit called the Better Sleep Council, which identifies itself as a "non-profit organization supported by the mattress industry," is behind "Suite 7," a new Web series that debuted Friday on Lifetime's website.

All seven episodes take place in Suite 7 of a hotel and feature various characters in stories about the benefits of getting proper rest. The producers reportedly have lined up some notable creative talent – Craig Bierko, Ileana Douglas and Milo Ventimilia – to make the vignettes.

We're in the midst of a changing relationship between entertainment and advertising in which product placement is playing an increasing role, with the effect ranging from relatively benign to annoying to insidious. The experts call the concept "branded entertainment," but it amounts to virtually putting commercials into shows.

Buick, The New York Times recently noted, is underwriting an MSN travel series that just happens to feature appearances by the brand granddad swore by. Bing held a contest this year to incorporate the search engine into a TV pilot. The most blatant example may be NBC's long-running soap opera "Days of Our Lives," in which conversations about products like Chex Mix and Cheerios are built into scripts – earning a recent skewering by Stephen Colbert.

Soap operas, which got the nickname because detergent companies sponsored early radio serials, are in particular trouble. “As the World Turns” and “The Guiding Light” are gone. Longtime soap sponsor Proctor & Gamble,  announced this month that it’s shifting advertising efforts away from TV and into social media.

Judging from the first "Suite 7" episode, soap operas may be moving onto the Web. The video – built around a final confrontation between a divorcing couple – proved a reasonably well-done kitchen-sink drama, somehow packed into about 11 minutes.

The title – "Good in Bed" – offered an early hint that there's still a spark between the young professional couple, whose bickering belies a bond.

"Look at that big soft bed – it's practically daring us to do it!" the woman declares.

The end up in the sack – for a goodbye snuggle.

"I'll never be able to take a nap with anyone else," she says.

We have nothing against a good nap, but as far as excitement level, the episode wasn’t exactly “Attack of the Craftmatic” (even if we’ll concede that wasn’t the point). “Suite 7” falls somewhere between relatively benign and annoying on the product placement scale. But it’s yet another sign that when watching shows on TV or the Web, we all need to keep our eyes open.

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Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.

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