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Product Placement, With A Wholesome Twist

Did that character on TV just eat some organic granola? Are you tempted to buy some yourself? Thank Green Product Placement, the latest company carving an environmental niche for itself.

Next time a character in your favorite TV show takes a bite from a granola bar, or an organic bacon sandwich, think of this: The product may have been “placed” there as part of a marketing campaign.

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At least that’s the hope of a new firm that launched this week. Maryland and New York-based Green Product Placement is the brainchild of two friends who want to use marketing’s dark arts to sell “good products.”

“Product placement works on this weird sub-conscious level. When you see brand a lot, you start to recognize it,” says co-founder Beth Bell, who has worked on films like Runaway Bride and Twelve Monkeys. “We’re using the evil powers of product placement for good. We like to call it ‘positive placement.'”

Bell and co-founder Lisa Dietrich have already placed products in pilots for HBO’s Veep, Showcase Canada’s King, and are about to work with other shows, including Enlightened and Suits.

GPP’s 15 clients include Applegate Farms (cheeses, lunch meats), Sloop Betty Vodka, and green-cleaning products company Berkley Green.

Bell says companies want to work with GPP because of its commitment to promote only green or ethical lines. “Other product placement agencies are out to place a brand and make a buck. They don’t have any sort of ethos to say ‘these are the only types of brands we’re going to promote,'” she says.

In time, GPP hopes to share some of its earnings with charity, something Bell says traditional agencies never do.

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Her venture does raise the question of whether ends justify means. If product placement is morally dubious, as people say, does it get any better if you’re selling “good” stuff?

Bell thinks so, though she’s also of the opinion that it’s a bit late to complain about commercialism on the airwaves. “People are really not that naive, are they? Come on. It’s been around since Jules Verne‘s days. It’s so ubiquitous.”

Product placement is particularly pervasive now that the effectiveness of traditional advertising is declining. But the rest of the world hasn’t embraced the practice like the U.S. Europe only recently lifted its ban, and the U.K. is still maintaining some controls.

No doubt, Bell is right that placement is a fact of life, and that companies have to use every tool they can. Hopefully, the “good” companies don’t take placement too far––for example, by trying to drive whole plot-lines.

Having a character eat something they would eat anyway is one thing. Having them swoon repeatedly over its qualities is quite another.

About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.

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