Jun 19, 2021 • 3M

Suspending Your Disbelief is Harder with Product Placements

Zoom's very awkward product placement in the Handmaid's Tale season 4 finale

Mo Elzubeir 🐼
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I’m a huge fan of The Handmaid’s Tale show on Hulu. The dystopian setting requires a significant effort suspending your disbelief, in order to enjoy it. Wholesale institutionalized rape, vicious punishments including severing body parts, hangings on the wall.. all in a not too distant future America.

We can sit here and debate how believable Gilead is, but one thing is for certain, product placements were nowhere to be found. In fact, Gilead itself is almost communist when it comes to consumer choices. Foodstuffs are often in short supply, as the new country fights internal and external wars.

During the Season 4 finale, Commander Fred was talking to his wife Serena, where he awkwardly blurted that he would like to maybe Zoom? My ears perked up in the same way my dog’s does when I ask him if he wants to go for a walk. Zoom? That can’t be right.

I played it again and sure enough, he uttered the word “Zoom”. Sheesh. Ok, product placement alert! Then there is a shot of Serena sitting at her desk with her laptop open, with Zoom’s application open. If you weren’t sure you heard Zoom earlier, now you know you heard it right.

Product placement is a marketing technique, where a product and/or service are “hopefully” seamlessly referenced in a piece of work, such as this TV show. The first known product placement in film is reportedly by the Level Brothers in France, featuring Sunlight soap in 1896. And before that, logistics companies lobbied Jules Verne to mention their companies by name, in his famed novel Around the World in Eighty Days (1873).

Today, we have come to accept product placements or embedded marketing without so much as batting an eye. We hear it in music. We see it in movies. Dubai has made product placements one of the cornerstones of their branding strategy. It’s not unusual to hear Nicki Minaj or Drake namedrop Dubai.

But it has to feel natural. It has to feel “right”. When you are in a make-belief world, your imagination is already stretched thin. I don’t know about you, but I simply did not buy it. It was cringe.