Product Placement and American Idol

It’s near impossible to miss all the hype about American Idol, what with the final showdown happening tonight and tomorrow. While I am not an avid viewer, I’ve seen it a few times and might even watch tonight, along with at least 31 million others. An article in this weekend’s Wall Street Journal discussed the rampant product placement in the show, which does not seem to diminish the number of viewers tuning in. By the 2004 season, viewers were exposed to a total of 3,200 product placement occurrences, according to Nielsen Media Research — everything from the Coke cups sitting in front of each judge to the Ford commercials featuring the Idol contestants and other plugs.

This article, plus a passing reference I heard that mentioned that the second runner up who was voted off last week, Elliott Yamin, is diabetic and 90% deaf in one ear, sparked some more thoughts about social marketing product placement on TV. Apparently, Yamin wears an insulin pump and has talked about his diabetes on the show. What an amazing opportunity to get out information about diabetes and hearing loss — as well as providing a positive role model who is managing his health effectively. With a 30-second ad on Wednesday’s show going for about $1.3 million, it’s too bad that Yamin is not in the final two where he could talk more about things like diabetes prevention or management to get the value of that kind of reach.

Contestants on American Idol develop legions of rabid fans, and Yamin is no exception. In fact, some of his fans have started a fundraising campaign with proceeds going to the American Diabetes Association. The ADA should have jumped on this increase in awareness about diabetes to get their messages out to Yamin fans (or as one fan blog calls them “Yaminions”), but I could find nothing on their website about him.

How else might social marketers work with American Idol to add their “products” to the long list of other products being promoted on the show? In the show’s interviews and mini-documentaries about the contestants, might they highlight positive behaviors they engage in like eating healthy food, working out, wearing their seat belts, flossing their teeth, wearing a hat in the sun, etc? Give each contestant an apple after their performance? Show the people who are voted off using positive coping strategies to deal with the stress? I would like to think that the producers of American Idol might be amenable to working in some sort of positive health or social issues to the show, given that they are not wanting for money-producing sponsors. Hmmm, there’s a thought for next season.

By the way, HitWise predicts that Taylor Hicks will win, based on the volume of online search results on his name versus competitor Katherine McPhee. Guess we’ll see Wednesday night.

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