The Weird Product Placement Cycle

by Chris McGinty

I’m going to talk about “The Office” Season 2 Episode 1, but with very light spoilers that may not even be considered spoilers. In this episode, the Dunder Mifflin staff goes to Chili’s for a company based award night. The character of Pam Beesly gets particularly drunk, makes a fool of herself and ends up getting banned from Chili’s.

The reason it was portrayed this way is because the original script called for Pam to get shit faced drunk and vomit. Even though the vomiting would be from overdoing it with alcohol, I guess Chili’s didn’t want people associating vomiting with their restaurant. There were other concerns as well. The compromises did work for the story. Pam was not overserved, but rather got so blitzed by grabbing unfinished drinks off of other people’s tables. It was a little more comedic that way. The point is Chili’s almost wasn’t the setting off the story. The banning of her character from the restaurant, while funny and good for a couple of callback jokes later in the series, was to suggest that Chili’s didn’t condone her behaviour.

Many years later, Jenna Fischer, who played Pam, posted to Twitter a picture of her standing outside of Chili’s wondering if she should try to go in. It was just a nod to her character’s plight. Chili’s looking up after “The Office” being one of the most successful shows ever, and Chili’s not ever having any blowback from the episode, now all the sudden they were perfectly happy to kind of join in on the joke, and lifted Pam’s banning from Chili’s.

This has happened a number of times with product placement and entertainment. You hear about all of the weird demands that companies had, sometimes to the point of pulling out from the project, but companies are mostly unscathed by product placement. If the movie doesn’t do well, then nobody actually ever talks about it because it’s not that notable. If the movie becomes iconic then when people talk about the product placement it’s usually with some amount of reverence. I understand not wanting to have your product portrayed in a bad light, but it seems like if a major production comes to you and says, “Hey, we’ll put you in front of millions of viewers,” be like Nike and just do it.

Chris McGinty is a blogger who is unfortunately not sponsored by Nike, because he could have taken all that money and got his cars repaired, bought some real bitchin’ sound systems, drove up to a few concerts thudding some bass, and then wasted the rest of the mone buying drinks for everybody at Chili’s; followed by a few weeks of complete regret for going through all that money in one night and having to get another sponsorship. We should all have problems like that.

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