Why This Real Housewives Product Placement Bombed


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When Product Placement Goes Wrong

It’s the product placement nobody asked for and nobody liked… Bravo’s Real Housewives of New York partnered with Universal’s comedy, The Hustle. The intention, of course, was to use the infectious personalities of reality drama to drive box office traffic.

However, what they got instead was a lot of Twitter traffic, and not the good kind. In this blog, Hollywood Branded digs into why this Real Housewives product placement went horribly wrong, and how brands can avoid a similar fate in the future.

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Setting The Scene

Very few these days are unfamiliar with Bravo’s Real Housewives franchise. The brainchild of Andy Cohen, the reality show follows a group of wealthy, wine-loving, confrontational women on their walk through friendship, marriage, business, etc. A total guilty pleasure among women 18-45, there is no questioning as to why a film targeting that demo would use this platform. It truly is a great fit. However, as we see very clearly with this scenario, a great content fit doesn’t automatically translate to a great segment – you still need the segment to be compelling and organic. Something this was not.

In this episode of Real Housewives of New York (RHONY), two of the show’s leading women, Sonja and Dorinda, were invited, aka nicely required by the show, to attend a special screening of the Anne Hathaway/Rebel Wilson comedy, The Hustle. We watch the two women leaving the theater before grabbing a bite to eat to further discuss the movie.

Seems alright, no? Two friends having a movie date and hashing out the plot over dinner after? Not so much…

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Why The Backlash

For starters, when we see the ladies leaving the theater before their meal, you’re smacked in the face with multiple movie posters promoting the film. If you’ve been to any movie theater in the past twenty years or so, you now that usually one movie poster will suffice… not here.

movie poster

Then it really gets good, I mean bad. If you’re a dedicated, weekly viewer of this show, which most viewers are, you know these women like they’re your own best friends. You’re watching them live their lives out on TV every week, not to mention really getting to know them via social media. That’s why hearing them speak about the film was painful because you could literally feel the script these women were mentally reading off of. Their verbiage when discussing the film’s plot and characters was very obviously messages that a studio would want to get across. Examples from the scene below:

“I cannot believe that Anne Hathaway. She was amazing!”

“Look at Rebel, she was so good!”

“That movie was worth coming to the theater for.”

“Very relatable!”

“The thing I loved about Rebel Wilson and Anne Hathaway’s relationship was that you wouldn’t think that they would get along… They actually got along really well! Like our coo-coo group.”

“The way Anne (Hathaway) could cry, I was thinking of Tinsley (Mortimer, another character on RHONY), and how she can cry like that!”

Their lines read like the studio’s dream film review, and people noticed.

women eating dinner after

The Feedback

As you can now imagine, it wasn’t great. Comedian Danny Pellegrino discussed the placement on his podcast, Everything Iconic, saying that viewers felt “bamboozled.” Notorious Housewives fan and Juicy Scoop podcast host, Heather McDonald, discussed the placement in her episode recap saying, “Then the worst thing happened… The promotion, it was so weird!” She continued, “I’m not mad a Dorinda and Sonja. They are victims in this.” Almost left speechless, McDonald continued, “I mean, it was so… I can’t even tell you how angry I was… This was a bit much.” EW.com goes on to say, “This is The Hustle busting into our RHONY safe space and tricking us into being marketed to with all the subtlety of Luann (a very boisterous character on RHONY)…that’s it, that’s the comparison."

One person on Twitter wrote, “Bravo violated us tonight.” Another wrote, “…That was the worst thing I have seen on any Housewives show…” And another, “That.Was.INFURIATING.” Our favorite though has to be, “…the gratuitous, blatant promotion for ‘The Hustle,’… @BravoTV, WUT WAS THAT?! Cheapening the #RHONY and Bravo Brand.”

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How To Avoid This With Your Brand

The key here is authenticity. The reason brands partner with content is to use the voice of those characters to organically get their brand’s messaging across to the production’s viewers. There is a very delicate balance between being so organic that the messaging is too subtle to move the needle and going so strong with brand messaging that it leaves the viewer rolling their eyes, venting on Twitter.

In order to really capitalize on that middle ground, brands need to work with producers on finding ways to weave messaging into the storyline so that it resonates with the show’s viewers. Brands shouldn’t be writing the script, which is what appears to have happened here. And IF there truly is no way to organically feature those messaging points in that content, entertain another medium. For example, this promotion would have gone over a lot smoother on the ladies’ social media than it did on this show. The brand could have continued to control the messaging, even including trailers, and hitting the same demographic. 

Especially in reality TV, staying true to the character is the most important part of a brand partnership because if the viewer doesn’t believe her there was no point in the placement. In the last season of Project Runway, our team coordinated a season-long partnership with Pilot Pen. In that season, the brand received two separate verbal mentions, both of which were generated by the person saying them, and as a result, not met with negative backlash like we’re seeing here.

This Is Why Our Agency Exists

Not to turn this into a shameless plug, but THIS is what we do. This is certainly a topic that our agency visits often. To a brand, they’re paying a lot of money, and they expect a commercial in return. However, navigation to that middle ground is what our agency does best. We’ve all seen the extremes, and our agency knows how to avoid them. 

How This Can Apply To You

Want to learn about some other product placement successes and flubs? Check out some of our other blogs...

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