Posted by: Jon Fine on March 15, 2006
I cannot be the only person to notice how many brand names get mentioned, with great frequency and flattery, on the otherwise ad-free Sopranos.
I know I’m not the first. During the last Sopranos season, I wrote a story about this for my previous employer, Advertising Age, that grew out of a conversation with top editors there. (Read: I cannot claim credit for the idea.) They noticed that, seemingly suddenly, there were a lot of brand references on the Sopranos. Like—a lot. Suck-uppy mentions of Whirlpool washing machines, for instance.
The Sopranos, a show I like very much, does not do product placement in the fee-for-sense. Nor does HBO, although at times they’ve played footsie with the idea.
On the other hand, if, as I said in the Ad Age story, Tony drives an Escalade and the Cadillac logo appears in the frame whenever he’s shown in the driver’s seat, if he touts Nissan’s “triple-safety philosophy” when giving an Xtera to AJ, if he visits Adriana after a car crash and says his monstrous Escalade “probably saved our lives” … well, fee-for or not, it’s clear that cadging free vehicles from carmakers doesn’t come without attendant costs.
The product placements that jumped out at me during a first viewing of Season 6, Episode One, graded on a one-to-ten scale of egregiousness:
Porsche Cayenne. Carmella’s new car. She can’t stop talking about it, either.
Egregiousness: 9. What is it about the Sopranos and cars?
Cingular. Tony’s cell phone carrier. Brand name shows up onscreen during a close-up of Tony’s battery running out.
Egregiousness: 2, since an enraged Tony sends the phone flying two seconds after the brand appears onscreen.
I suspect I missed some brand references and please let me know if I did.
UPDATE, 3/20: Several people pointed out via email or by commenting below that I missed one whopper was missed. A careful re-viewing of the first episode revealed:
Nesquik. Emblazoned, full-screen, across a model railroad car snaking around Bobby Bacal’s garage.
Egregiousness: 8. For a moment, it’s the only thing you see onscreen.