If not the first show to flaunt name brands, Seinfeld is certainly the most brazen in its use of products as comedy fodder. Indeed, four consumer items have driven plots as prominently as guest stars: Junior Mints, Drake’s Coffee Cake, Pez, and Snickers. Others — like Snapple, Dannon yogurt, and 25 or so cereals — have made nonspeaking cameos. ”There was no thought of, ‘Oh, if we say Yoo-hoo, we’ll get a case of Yoo-hoo.’ We never did it in order to get things,” claims former writer Larry Charles. ”We should have said Rolex watches. We should have cashed in.” (Like they need more money.)
So why do they do it? Realism. ”It always bothered me when Archie Bunker reached for his can of beer and it was some non-brand,” says Glenn Padnick, president of Castle Rock Television, the show’s studio. ”For a second it took you out of the show.” Seinfeld‘s writers also prefer real products because, in comedy, specificity is funny. Here are answers to some other burning product questions:
What happens when the reference is negative — as when Jerry dissed Levi’s Dockers Pants ads? ”Virtually every [company with a] product that is mentioned on our show, even if it was semi-unflattering, has loved it,” says Padnick. The show asks for permission to use a brand name only if Castle Rock’s lawyers think the company may take offense. So far, the only one that’s had a beef with a Seinfeld mention was Chef Boyardee, which balked at a script (episode 115) that had Kramer feeding Beefaroni to a horse — with odoriferous results. The name was changed to Beef-A-Reeno.
Has an advertiser ever gotten mad when a competitor’s name was mentioned? No, but NBC’s standards and practices division polices the product mentions in an effort to avoid the appearance of gratuitous plugging — as it did with ”The Contest,” a.k.a. the masturbation episode. ”We were expecting pages and pages [of notes],” says Padnick. ”But literally the only comment from the censors was ‘Please delete a few references to Snapple.”’ Avoiding gratuitous plugging is also why so finicky a consumer as Jerry drinks Diet Coke and Diet Pepsi. ”We’re not looking to aid any [brand],” says Padnick. ”Jerry probably would have a favorite soft drink, but we just can’t do that.”
Jerry’s most obvious accessory — his sneakers — are never mentioned by name. How come? Since real-life Jerry, an avowed sneaker buff, gets free shoes from Nike, to point out the brand would constitute ”product placement” (taking money or gifts in exchange for a product mention), and the show would then have to credit Nike after each episode. (Note, however, two rather blatant references to the athletic-wear company: Jerry sports a Nike sweatshirt in episodes 92 and 137.)
Okay, so what’s the deal with Rold Gold pretzels? Jason Alexander’s Rold Gold TV ad spots first aired in September 1993 — the same month he was seen eating the pretzels on the show (in episode 64). Isn’t that a little fishy? ”That was definitely a coincidence,” says Monica Neufang, PR manager at Frito-Lay, parent company of Rold Gold. ”As the number-one pretzel in the U.S., it’s natural that if you’re going to grab for a pretzel to be on the show, you’re going to go with the leader.” As Jerry might say, We don’t think so.