Product Placement a Mis-Step for 20th Century Fox
Posted: July 30, 2009 | 7:32 ET

A unique exercise in product placement has backfired on 20th Century Fox.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the film studio paid a high school student to plug its movie I Love You, Beth Cooper by mirroring a scene in the flick.

"The movie opens with an unassuming valedictorian using his graduation speech to proclaim his feelings for the most popular girl in school. Fox and its consultants hatched the ruse to recreate the scene at a real high school before the film's July 10 opening, say people familiar with the matter, in hopes of creating online chatter about the way the movie supposedly inspired copycats," the WSJ writes.

Kenya Mejia pocketed $1,800 to yell "I love you, Jake Minor!" during her own valedictory speech. While her boyfriend, who is someone other than Jake Minor, was unfazed by the stunt, her parents were outraged, as were officials at the high school that she was graduating from and school district authorities.

Perhaps more importantly for Fox, the attempt to create a viral campaign failed miserably.

More than a month after a video of Mejia's feigned outburst was posted on YouTube, "the clip had garnered fewer than 2,000 views." Meanwhile, "I Love You, Beth Cooper has been a bomb in an otherwise buoyant summer movie season. The movie, which cost an estimated $19 million to make, took in $13.4 million domestically its first three weeks in release, according to Even Ms. Mejia hasn't seen it," the WSJ notes wryly.

It strikes me that perhaps Hollywood hasn't figured out how viral campaigns work. Consumers understand the difference between real and manufactured word-of-mouth recommendations. And while, for the most part, they're perfectly comfortable with product placements in films, TV shows or situations in which everyone is in on the joke (think Diamond Shreddies), consumers are far too savvy to fall for obviously staged events that pretend to be genuine.

The Journal cites two such examples.

"At the MTV Movie Awards in May, [Bruno]'s star, Sacha Baron Cohen, was lowered abruptly by wires onto rapper Eminem in an apparent technical malfunction that tangled the two men in a suggestive position. After days of speculation about whether the episode was really an accident, the rapper acknowledged it had been staged by the filmmakers.

"In 2007, Walt Disney Co.'s Hollywood Records helped singer Marie Digby produce several homemade-looking music videos that were posted online. Only after the videos began to attract millions of viewers did the record label send out a news release announcing it had signed the 'breakthrough YouTube phenomenon'--even though her record deal dated to 2005. Ms. Digby's career still hasn't taken off, though."

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