Though Pepsi's "Saturday Night Live" sketch-turned-commercial may have initially confused consumers who were unsure whether they were watching a late-night sketch or an ad for the soda, industry insiders say that cutting through the clutter and standing out -- even if you confuse a few viewers -- is imperative during an economic downturn.
"SNL's" "MacGruber" sketches first appeared during the NBC show and then later during the 2009 Super Bowl. All were collaborations between "SNL" producers and Pepsi, which paid "SNL" to run the sketches during the program and then also paid for the time during the big game.
In each of the three versions of the ad -- which is a spoof on the 1980s' special agent McGyver -- "SNL" actor Will Forte constantly touts Pepsi products as he and two friends (one of them played by original "McGyver" actor Richard Dean Anderson) try to escape from a building that is about to explode. In the third version of the ad, Forte's obsession with Pepsi has grown and he is no longer making sense when he speaks. He just repeats "Pepsi" over and over again.
"Everyone does product placement, but this was way over the top," said Steve Hall, the editor of the marketing industry blog Adrants.com. "The ads illustrated how insanely insane product placement has become."
"This is definitely a result of the poor economy," he said. "Advertisers are finding ways to hold up their products and say their names as much as possible."
David Griner, the social media strategist for marketing agency Luckie & Co. and a writer for Adweek's blog, Adfreak.com, said the "MacGruber" campaign was also a way to cut costs, try something new and experiment with ways to advertise effectively without blowing the budget.
"They didn't blow their money on high budget ads but instead found a way to get people to keep talking about it on their own," said Griner.
Daily coffee may be the last place caffeine addicts want to cut corners, but high-end coffee chain Starbucks quickly learned that even its most loyal customers were cringing at the thought of spending a lot for a cup of joe during the recession.
As a result, Starbucks offered a value menu of its own -- $3.95 for a coffee and a breakfast pastry or sandwich. Industry experts were left to wonder just how desperate Starbucks must be when it starts competing with McDonald's speciality coffees for business, now available in the coffee bars located in McDonald's restaurants, called McCafes.
Seeing Starbucks adapt its highbrow image to one that boasts value and addresses cost savings is out of line with the company's brand image, said Griner, who suggests this may be the most desperate move a company can make in a wavering economy.
"Starbucks is in a tight spot," said Griner. "When the economy was good, they spent years telling people they're a luxury item, but suddenly they're saying they're cheap and affordable. You can't be both."
Hall agreed: "There is some desperation on the part of Starbucks."
"McDonald's has always sold cheap stuff," Hall said. "McDonald's and Starbucks mean two entirely different things."
Further capitalizing on the public's want for all things cheap, McCafe will be a major sponsor of New York's Fashion Week. While fashionistas such as Vogue's Anna Wintour and the Olsen twins are routinely seen clutching their Starbucks cups, McDonald's is hoping to take over where Starbucks has previously been the item du jour.