Safe Sex and Teen Pregnancy Score Some ‘Product Placement’ Spots on TV


Product placement on TV doesn’t always have to be that awkward moment, say, when a meth-addled character wakes up in the morning, putters into the kitchen, opens the pantry, grabs a box of Honey Smacks, holds it so that the viewing audience gets an obstructed view and announces, “Gotta have my Smack…s” [Laugh track]. TV spots from the Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, for example, can work contraception tutorials into the plotlines of network shows so that viewers realize that, in real life, a lot of people use condoms when they have sex because unfurling a prophylactic only ever poses a threat to the plot progression of a 22 minute sitcom.

According to NPR’s Neda Ulaby, the not-for-profit (and, bonus, non-partisan) Campaign works with Hollywood “gatekeepers” and writers to subtly and tastefully add messages about contraception and teen pregnancies into TV shows, much the same way that a for-profit company will pay serious money to have Dr. Temperance “Bones” Brennan comically knock over a femur to reach a can of Red Bull. Ulaby points to the some of the Campaign’s handiwork earlier this year on Fox’s Raising Hope, which had its main character catch a high school couple fumbling with each other’s underthings and delivered a awkward lecture about the dangers of teen pregnancy.

In that sense, the Campaign’s work with Hollywood amounts to a kind of product placement, or at least “message placement.” Though TV execs that work with the Campaign such as the WB’s Susanne Daniels expressed initial skepticism that including even positive messages from an external organization with an agenda different from a show’s could “tarnish the organic nature of the development,” the Campaign never tries to meddle with (or introduce) storylines and shares its its research and statistics liberally.

According to Gina Girolamo, another TV exec who has collaborated with the Campaign, the information that the Campaign has can help tailor messages about contraception to teenage viewers. “The teenagers,” Girolamo explained, “specifically said: Well no one on TV uses condoms,” she recalls. “And I remember thinking: Wow. We really need to do a better job of representing life.” Given the fact that movies and TV often skip over that moment of contraception incorporation in scenes featuring casual sex, including some more condom-donning (or suggested condom-donning, since it is, after all, network TV) probably wouldn’t interfere with anyone’s viewing pleasure.

TV Writers Script Safe Sex ‘Product Placement’ [NPR]

Image via R. Gino Santa Maria/Shutterstock.

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