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Apple’s Other Advertising Partners

The other day I saw what appeared to be an ad for the iPhone, depicting a new app that allowed you to manage your auto insurance policy. But rather than segue to the telltale Apple logo, it turned out that this was actually commercial for GEICO, complete with that lizard-like puppet that serves as the company’s mascot, known as a Gecko.

Now the company that brought you talking lizards and yuppie cavemen would certainly be expected to want to use the iPhone to provide an app to service their customers, but they’re clearly not the only one. The U.S.’s two satellite TV providers, DirecTV and Dish Network, are both eagerly touting their iPhone apps, designed to allow you to schedule the shows you want to record on your DVR remotely.

Now I don’t believe for a moment that these and other companies who tout iPhone apps are doing so without Apple’s permission and, in fact, participation. It may well be that, as with those “Intel Inside” stingers on the typical PC commercial, Apple provides a cash incentive for a company to boast about having an iPhone app.

This is all part and parcel of the incredible marketing push Apple has embarked upon to make the iPhone and the App Store totally essential to your lifestyle. What’s more, you can expect the same to hold true with the iPad.

On Sunday night’s Grammy Awards show, for example, Stephen Colbert pulled out an iPad to consult when he read the nominees for song of the year. Last week, none other than comedian Paul Reubens, known to most of you as Pee-Wee Herman, was busy showing off his iPad. In all fairness, Apple is quoted as saying Colbert’s iPad was real, but Herman’s was fake.

Regardless, even though regular people won’t be able to buy an iPad until the end of March, that hasn’t stopped Apple from selectively placing them in the hands of at least one show business personality. The reason, of course, is that the media will notice and you will notice, which will simply sell more product.

As you know, Apple has been playing the product placement game for all its worth for many years. In the 1996 “Mission Impossible” movie featuring Tom Cruise, a PowerBook was featured. Of course, the big joke at the time was that this was the infamous model whose release was delayed for many months due to an outbreak of smoking batteries involving some prototype units.

Don’t forget how yet another PowerBook, a featured “character” in the science fiction disaster film “Independence Day,” was employed by star Jeff Goldblum to wirelessly infect the alien mothership’s computer with a virus. It is ironic that the computer “for the rest of us,” supposedly less susceptible to malware, was itself used to spread malware in order to save the planet. Curious indeed, but no more curious than how it would be possible for a primitive Earth computer to communicate with an advanced system from an alien world.

Over the years Apple products have played sometimes prominent roles in movies and TV shows. The telltale Apple logo is everywhere, even on Dr. House’s desk as he devises schemes to infuriate both fellow physicians and patients in the popular medical drama.

Certainly Macs are widely available in procedural dramas, where crime lab personnel are busy consulting a Mac display or portable to detect evidence against the perpetrator of the week. Sure Windows PCs are found too, sometimes with a Dell, HP r Vaio logo on them, but there is little about the design of those products that allows them to stand out. They might as well be tables and chairs for all the attention to bring to themselves.

Indeed, in situations where both Macs and PCs are used, the villains almost invariably have a PC. After all they are evil, and Microsoft is evil, thus they go together. Certainly Mac users would agree, but this is clearly part and parcel of the mindsets of many TV production companies as well.

Over the next few weeks, even before the iPad is officially available, you’ll no doubt see more and more of them providing various and sundry functions in your favorite shows. The production timeframe of movies will probably prevent them from making an appearance for many months, perhaps a year or two.

In the meantime, don’t be surprised if doctors and nurses are increasingly discovered making their rounds around hospitals with iPads in hand to consult to retrieve medical records and enter critical patient information. Of course that might be true for the real world one of these days too.

I’m sure you realize that directors, producers and even TV networks don’t just happen to go out to buy Macs with which to populate their sets. There’s quite a bit of product placement in props, which is why you’ll often see brand name beverages, such as Coke or Pepsi, being consumed by one of the performers. Indeed, if you examine the credits at the end of a show, you’ll often see a whole list of credits listing the companies who received product placement promotions.

Apple’s own editorial loan program will often put the interests of show business ahead of the tech media when it comes to getting product into the field. Clearly this marketing method continues to pay off, and no doubt you’ll now be searching for the next appearance of the iPad, perhaps in one of your favorite shows.