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Oprah's Product Placement

Will Oprah Winfrey drive Pontiacs into pop culture popularity? Maybe so, considering Oprah -- whom we recently crowned "Investment Guru" -- gave away 276 Pontiac G6 2005 sports sedans to her entire studio audience for her season premiere on Monday. The recipients were handpicked as people whose families and friends had written to Oprah stating that they needed new cars, making it an episode about aspirations and wish fulfillment.

Though Oprah seems to get much of the credit for the giveaway, General Motors (NYSE: GM  ) donated the cars, which retail for $28,000 each.

For GM, this is a pretty savvy version of product placement in a world where people can easily buzz through commercials with their digital video recorders, such as my personal favorite new technology, TiVo (Nasdaq: TIVO  ) . (Meanwhile, news reports from early this month that Oprah had toured some GM plants were likely a good hint that something was up some sleeves -- it also implies that Oprah does her homework when she's about to give a product a high profile.)

I don't know about you, but news reports describing Oprah screaming repeatedly, "Everybody gets a car!" and word that the audience "screamed, cried, and hugged each other" sounds like some pretty darn good advertising to me. That kind of unbridled joy is probably the best advertisement any company could get.

(Other people who might scream, cry, and hug each other are XM Satellite Radio (Nasdaq: XMSR  ) fans, as the cars came loaded up with XM, generating some pretty hefty buzz for the satellite radio company.)

GM took a multimillion-dollar hit by donating the cars -- judging by retail value, the cars were worth nearly $8 million -- and according to BBC News, GM said the expense of the donation was the equivalent of snapping up 50 ads on prime-time television.

As dear as that may sound, when it comes to advertising and product placement, Oprah's show is without a doubt one of the top places to be on television. It ropes in 30 million viewers every week and has a global audience. Meanwhile, talk about PR -- the exciting stunt ensured an attentive audience, seeing how lots of people use commercial breaks to perform other tasks.

Product placements done well can feel smooth and speak of our pop culture icons (Miranda's TiVo obsession on Sex and the City, Grace's occasional desire to binge on Krispy Kreme Doughnuts (NYSE: KKD  ) on Will and Grace), though, at other times, they can feel clunky and forced (my opinion of a rather heavy-handed cameo of Campbell's (NYSE: CPB  ) Pepperidge Farm Milano cookies on the series finale of Frasier).

However, maybe GM's outdone them all with this one. An appearance on Oprah is likely the crown jewel of advertising. As pricey as it was, GM's Pontiacs got quality attention through this stunt -- which appealed to the fulfillment of people's dreams.

To read about Oprah's investing savvy, check out the following article:

For more on creative and not-so-creative advertising in the 21st century, check out these articles:

Alyce Lomaxdoes not own shares of any of the companies mentioned.

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