Thursday, November 21, 2013

Product Placement in Modern Family

            In America’s society, we think about quality TV not being hindered by financial restraints, popular trends, and advertising demands (Sandler, p. 3). If we do detect these in quality TV, we hope that the characters, plotlines, and jokes are creative enough to overcome the advertising demands. In September 2009, ABC’s Modern Family aired for the first time, creating a large audience appeal. According to Sandler, by March 31, 2010, Modern Family had become the highest-rated new comedy. Interestingly enough, this quality TV program was and is prominently known for its product placement.

Most consumers consider product placement to be annoying. It can be argued that Modern Family has a way of embedding products into their show without disrupting the audience. Like any story, there were two sides to the argument about the episode called Game Changer (involving the iPad) that aired March 31st, 2010. This blog will discuss the positives and negatives of the iPad episode, as well as product placement in Modern Family as a whole. A positive of Modern Family’s product placement includes the matching of the product to the audience demographic. A negative of Modern Family’s product placement in Game Changer relates to the aspect of “selling out.”

            The people that viewed Game Changer as a positive episode saw the product placement as realistic and convincing. Sandler calls it a “savvy creator-fueled storyline that made sense within the shows fictional world.” It was established at the beginning of the series that Phil was passionate about new technology. The beginning of Game Changer reminds us of this when Phil says “It’s like Steve Jobs and God got together to make this the best birthday ever!”

            Modern Family’s demographic targets 18-49 year old white males with college degrees. These males were included in the demographic that could afford to purchase the iPad. Since ABC gathered a relatable demographic, it was not shocking when ABC entered a brand partnership with Apple. They had met their match. According to Sandler, “it was a no brainer: a high profile show integrating a highly desired device just days before its launch made perfect sense.” Instead of showing a two minute clip about the featured product, ABC took off running with an entire episode devoted to the iPad. According to Mark McNeilly, “you have to be pretty amazing to get free air time on a show” (Apple on Game Changer).

            According to Steven Levitan (one of the executive creator/producers), “To make it into Modern Family, a product’s appearance has to be relevant to not only the plot, but the characters.” Indeed, the iPad was relevant to the plot as well as Phil Dunphy’s obsession for the latest and greatest product. Since it was so relatable to the series, the demographic that aligns with Modern Family (18-49 year old males) felt it had significance. The episode was celebrating the commodity with the audience. There was also no criticism of the iPad in this episode, even though the glitches of the iPad were known before it even hit the stores. Although ABC entered a brand partnership with Apple, it was said by many sources that were affiliated with Modern Family that there was no exchange of money for this product’s air time. It sparks interest of critics that Modern Family would market a product with deficiencies for free.

            Although this episode seemed to be pretty successful, it did receive some backlash. According to Sandler, “Some people considered the iPad integration to be unforgiveable and shameless, a profit driven partnership of Twentieth Century Fox TV, the ABC Network, and Apple.  This episode blurred the line between entertainment and marketing which often happens in television.” Marketers try to find ways to put their products into shows without drawing too much attention. Many viewers thought that Modern Family was above this type of advertising. At the time this episode aired, there was an obnoxious amount of product integration in U.S. media as a whole. According to Amanda Greene, “Though Phil’s nerdy character would believably lust after the product, the timing of the episode makes us wonder if it was mostly promotional.” Some viewers thought that the show was “selling out,” or giving in to the marketing strategies much like any other show on television at the time. Another point that could be argued might be the fact that Modern Family decided to spend an entire episode on this one product instead of some odd minutes like they do with their other products.

Many advertisers strive to get their products onto Modern Family; however, about 90% of the requests get turned down according to Steven Levitan. Modern Family is very selective in the products they choose to integrate. Some products that have been placed in the series include Toyota, Audi, Target, and Apple of course. With DVR and ad skipping capabilities becoming more frequent, advertisers like to integrate their products through the shows so that consumers are still getting the ads. According to Steinberg, “Modern Family puts name-brand goods in the hands of characters that incorporate them into their normal routine, in turn demonstrating exactly how most of the buying public might use them.” According to Sandler, one advertisement that was paid for (Toyota) “received virtually no media response.” This could be due to the fact that Modern Family made it seem very practical to be driving one of their cars.

            Within a cultural framework, there are three different levels of influence including: mandates, conditions, and practices. As talked about in class, ABC’s mandate is to make money for its parent company’s shareholders. One way to do this is to provide these advertisements where advertisers have to pay money to air their ads during the programming. Some of the conditions that apply include technology shifts along with the commodity audience. The practice of these mandates and conditions is crucial. If the two aren’t balanced out, chances are, the product integration will not be successful. Some people might say that Game Changer did not do a great job of balancing out the mandates and conditions; therefore, creating unsuccessful product integration.

            Overall, most would say that Modern Family does a good job of integrating their products into their show. They are successful at it because they target their specific demographic, while making the products appear efficient and useable for a daily routine. From the iPad to the use of Toyota vehicles, the show portrays a scene of normality. It can be argued that Modern Family has a way of embedding products into their show without disrupting the audience. 



Class Lecture.

Greene, A. 10 Worst Examples of Product Placement on TV. Retrieved from:

Keller, J. (2011). Modern Family Visits Target in its Most Awkward Product Placement Yet.

Retrieved from:

McNeilly, M. (2012). The Most Egregiously Bad Product Placement You’ll Ever See – And

Sandler, K. 2013. “Modern Family: Product Placement.” How to Watch Television. Edited

            by Ethan Thompson and Jason Mittell. New York: New York University Press.

Steinberg, B. (2012). Many Brands Bid for Product Placement on ‘Modern Family,’ but So Few

            Make It. Retrieved from:

Steinberg, B. (2010). ‘Modern Family’ Featured an iPad, but ABC Didn’t Collect. Retrieved

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