By GARY GENTILE
The Associated Press
Wednesday, March 28, 2007; 5:11 PM
LOS ANGELES -- In last week's episode of the Web drama "Lonelygirl15," teen pals Bree, Daniel and Jonas are on the road, running from the mysterious evil group "The Order" when Daniel spots Bree clutching a small, lime-green box.
"What's that? Daniel says.
"Ice Breakers Sours Gum," Bree replies as the camera zooms in for a close-up _ on the box.
After offering it to her buddies, Bree playfully pops the last four pieces into her mouth with a giggle.
The exchange is more than just a light moment in a Web drama that's taken a dark turn. It's a paid advertisement known in the entertainment industry as a product placement, a way for the popular teen Internet soap opera to boost its finances.
The show became a Web sensation last fall after episodes were posted on YouTube. The success continued even after it was revealed that the homespun videos were actually a scripted series created by three friends and starring 19-year-old actress Jessica Lee Rose.
The creators have been searching for ways to raise money to keep the production going, including adding static advertisements to the end of each episode, with the proceeds split with the Internet site that now hosts the videos. They have also been soliciting donations from fans.
As short, episodic entertainment begins to flourish on the Web, other show creators are also thinking of integrating ad messages into their plots. After all, the same has been done for years in films, TV shows and even video games.
Advertisers are also looking to spend more money online as their traditional TV audience begins to splinter.
"The goal was to raise awareness of the brand among our target consumers," said Kirk Saville, a spokesman for Hershey Co., which makes Ice Breakers. "It already has generated substantial interest on the LG15 site and blogs worldwide."
Hershey and the creators of "Lonelygirl15" would not discuss the financial terms of the deal.
The show's makers had hoped from the start that advertisers would pay to have their food, clothes, cell phones or other such products used by the show's characters.
About a month ago, they were approached by Hershey's advertising agency. It turned out the brand manager for Ice Breakers gum was a big fan of the show and felt that featuring the product in an episode would reach the desired demographic.
But the show's creators were concerned the fan base would rebel.
"When we realized we were going to do it, we went on the forum and said a candy company approached us and wants to do an integration," co-creator Greg Goodfried said. "We told them Bree and Daniel will eat it. But we also said we're not going to do it if it pisses you off."
Of the 200 people who responded, 90 percent approved, Goodfried said.
Remarks posted online after the episode aired also ran mostly in favor.
Web-based shows run the dangers of alienating their young, hip audiences if product placement is done clumsily, said Josh Bernoff of Forrester Research.
"I think any podcast or mobisode that regularly includes product placement is likely to lose significant amounts of credibility," Bernoff said. "The product placement on television is very subtle and that's very hard to do."
Product placement in Web video episodes dates back to 1995 and the first Internet soap opera, "The Spot," according to its creator Scott Zakarin.
He now runs Zabberbox, a company producing several similar shows that are posted on Google Inc.'s YouTube. He said the shows, such as "NoHo Girls" and "VanNuys Guys" will soon also include product placement.
A new episodic Web series co-created by former Walt Disney Co. CEO Michael Eisner will also include product placement, plus a way to purchase clothing and other items featured in the videos.
Sponsors of the show "Prom Queen," which starts next week, include Fiji water, Teleflora.com and Victoria's Secret Pink.
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