The 5 Most Bonkers Product Placements in Gossip Girl
From Bing to Vitaminwater® and back again, GG never shied away from a dollar. I use my advertising degree to rate the effectiveness of its five most insane product placements.
Gossip Girl has no shortage of completely harebrained plotlines, line readings, outfits, set design decisions, stunt castings, etc. All those general absurdities are what makes it my favorite television show of all time, and if you’re an avid Top Shelf, Low Brow reader, you know that I manage to work in a reference almost once per letter. Usually, this is completely by accident and I don’t even realize it until it’s already on the page. Gossip Girl is an entity that flows through me at all times, one which I cannot control.
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about my favorite teenage soap over the past year. Since the start of the pandemic, I’ve returned to it multiple times—going back to the text, if you will. I rewatched it in its entirety once, navigated back to special holiday episodes at Christmas and Thanksgiving, and have often turned on a random ep just for a little familiar comfort in the darkest of times.
Although it will try, the upcoming Gossip Girl reboot from HBO Max will never be as good as the original. Yes, from a “quality” standpoint it could feasibly surpass its predecessor. It may end up being more well-written, more coherent, less choppy, and have characters whose entire arcs aren’t scrapped in one line, but where’s the fun in that? Where’s the fly-by-the-seat-of-your-Constance-Billard-uniform ridiculousness that I love so much? While I can’t know for sure what’s in store for the reboot, I’ll still be diving in headfirst despite knowing that it won’t topple the place that the original series has in my heart.
Something that will almost assuredly be missing from the reboot is the shoehorned product placements. With that HBO Max money, the new Gossip Girl won’t have to kowtow to brands as much as the CW did when it was a new and struggling network, created from The WB and UPN’s merger one year prior to Gossip Girl’s first season. I’m going to miss these charming sponsorships and the way the writers tried to make their presence as colloquial as possible. Product placement has transformed in such a way that it’s almost completely seamless in today’s media—unless, of course, you’re Tinsley Mortimer asking for a bottle of Nivea on The Real Housewives of New York (yes, I chose Tinsley because she appears in an episode in this list). We’ll never have moments like these ever again. And I don’t just mean the phone-of-the-week sensation that filled the show’s early episodes in the days before everyone had one of three smartphones or the occasional designer name drop, I mean blatantly noticeable product placement with the object at choice in locations and conversations you’d never expect it to be.
Because I have an advertising degree that has never really been put to use, I thought I, your number one GG aficionado, would get some mileage out of it here and break down the most bonkers product placements from the original Gossip Girl for you, according to both how effective I think they ended up being and just how baffling they truly are.
5. Bluefly — Episode 2x19: “The Grandfather”
One of the more innocuous instances of product placement to occur in Gossip Girl is this one, a plug for the discount online fashion marketplace Bluefly, which I was shocked to find out still exists. It only appears once, but it has lived in my mind ever since. After returning from a family summit at the Archibald estate, Dan and Vanessa are reconciling with their places as outsiders among Nate’s family of blue bloods. When they’re invited to a dinner with the family taking place the next day, Jenny offers to use the quick delivery promise of Bluefly to get Dan a fancy rep tie, the kind favored by the elite, and for a shockingly low price! With Bluefly, you too can dress your poor ass up to fit in with the remaining inbreds of the aristocracy! Nevermind the fact that the Humphrey’s live in a Redhook loft that costs, minimum, $4,000 a month and reside within a short distance of 100 different shops where they could pick up a tie. Bluefly throws all of those considerations out the window. And no one will ever know it was up to 70% off retail price!
I will admit, I remember I checked out Bluefly after this episode, though I had no business making any online purchases when I was 14 and certainly didn’t need any clothing overnight. This is actually pretty good product placement, even teetering on semi-organic, rare for Gossip Girl.
4. HP and Verizon — Episode 3x05: “Rufus Getting Married”
This one is kind of infamous for its place in the reaction GIF pantheon. We open the episode as we do so many others: a little vignette of what each character is up to, this time focusing on how all of our couples of the week are spending their morning. Chuck and Blair are in bed, Rufus slept on the couch after getting in a fight with Lily, etc. But Dan? He’s chatting with Olivia (played, naturally, by Hilary Duff) on Verizon instant messaging using his HP laptop! On the street! With the laptop resting on a disgusting New York street post! And oh what a wonderful life that is, being able to take your delightfully compact laptop with you anywhere you go and use it in conjunction with your Verizon monthly plan! You have to remember, this was before iMessage (and whatever messaging service that non-Apple products have), these little conveniences weren’t so easy to come by. So, when you’ve got a piece of technology that makes your life just that much easier, how can you not emit a little giggle into the ether?
Penn Badgley said recently, in some interview which I cannot find for the life of me (and yes it’s bad reporting to say that it’s true without a verified source but I swear I am not dreaming this) that his laughter was unscripted and that the camera caught him being baffled at the moment’s pure absurdity, which I absolutely believe. A WiFi connection so strong in 2009 that a little laptop could connect to it? My phone disconnects from my WiFi every time I get my mail.
It’s bad product placement but also good product placement because of how stupid it is. I don’t think this moment ever convinced anyone of the HP laptop’s astonishing portability and function, but it will live on forever with their logo in plain sight.
3. GILT — Episode 4x19: “Pretty In Pink”
In the vein of Bluefly, only more geared toward the already-rich, GILT is a luxury item marketplace with prices that are, for the most part, barely discounted from their original figure. It’s largely a destination for the average Upper East Sider that’s couch-bound after one too many Mimosa-and-Ativan breakfasts, which means it’s perfect for Lily Van Der Woodsen in season four. After pleading guilty to forging her daughter’s signature on a document that implicated Serena’s former boarding school professor in an inappropriate teacher/student relationship with an underage pupil that never actually happened (stay with me!), Lily finds herself on house arrest. Confined to her multilevel penthouse apartment and unable to indulge her normal form of retail therapy, Lily takes to GILT for a shopping spree that nearly turns her into a hoarder.
I actually think this is perfect product placement! This is precisely the target customer of GILT: rich, bored, and felonious. Those who have committed misdemeanors and other low-level crimes, The RealReal may be more your style.
2. Bing — Multiple Episodes Across Seasons 3,4
When asked how much of their advertising budget they should allocate to television across multiple quarters in 2010 and 2011, Bill Gates famously said, “Go crazy, go stupid.”
After the colossal flop of the Zune, Microsoft was trying its hand in another technological sector: the search engine. Launched in 2009, Microsoft Bing was the struggling little engine that could, just trying to get its name out there. But with a name as big as Microsoft attached to it, surely they could compete with Google eventually. They’d just need a little help from the kids to make it a household phrase. And what do young people love? Gossip Girl!
Episode 3x17: “Inglorious Bassterds”
Bing wanted to start out their run on the show by conveying the general ease of finding something in a pinch. When Dan returns to the Van Der Woodsen apartment hoping to score some polaroid film, he finds himself out of luck. Thank god his father, the ever-capable Rufus, is able to locate a store that sells it by typing “Polaroid film” into Bing! Well, at least that’s what we’re supposed to assume that’s what happens? Rufus types the phrase into Bing, we hear a little ping notification, and then he looks up and says, “Done!” Apparently, it was as simple as that!
Episode 3x18: “The Unblairable Lightness of Being”
“Google it.” It’s a phrase we all use, probably daily. Hell, “Google” as a verb was added to the Merriam-Webster dictionary in 2006. How would Bing ever be able to compete with something that’s so a part of the worldwide multilingual vernacular? The journey toward that began as all good things do, on Gossip Girl.
While looking for venues to host the shotgun wedding for her longtime housekeeper Dorota and her doorman Vanya, Eleanor Waldorf becomes simply verklempt by all of the options. This is a quickie wedding, but she wants something “traditional” that doesn’t say “the people that work for me need to get married immediately before their child is born out of wedlock.” Her solution? Bing it, baby!
Episode 3x20: “It’s a Dad, Dad, Dad, Dad World”
This one is earth-shattering, see if you can keep up. Jenny suspects that something is wrong with her stepmother Lily’s medication, which her stepmother has been taking for vague cancer-related illnesses because her ex-boyfriend sold them to people and they turned out to be fake. She suspects that her stepmother’s ex-husband, who is also her stepmother’s doctor, may be prescribing something tricky. How can she find out? Well, how do you and I find out about any of our general illnesses? WebMD, you’re over.
Yes, she types the word “cancer” into Bing. Just cancer. No other keywords or information to narrow down her search results. A quick Google search returns about 923 million results for “cancer,” I tried to look on Bing but they don’t present you with a number, which is suspicious. And yet they claim to “turn information into action, making it faster and easier to go from searching to doing.” Maybe that’s how Jenny was able to find the info she needed so quickly?
Episode 4x11: “The Townie”
Maybe you were reluctant to switch to Bing because of how much you rely on the comprehensive location data you get from Google Maps? Well, fear not! Bing has its own Maps interface, perfect for locating Katie Cassidy after drugs she the main character with ether and escapes to Connecticut, which is exactly how all brands are dying to have their product positioned.
Episode 4x20: “The Princess and the Frog”
Bing even aggregates some amaaaazing restaurant recommendations, all for your convenience. Forget Zagat. Forget Yelp. And definitely forget Google. You want authentic pierogies? Bitch, fuck Veselka! Bing is taking us to Queens where we can get some real pierogies.
Nevermind the fact that Greenpoint, Brooklyn is nicknamed “Little Poland,” I’m sure if you’re going to abandon the certified-deliciousness of the classic Veselka pierogi, the next best place is definitely somewhere in Queens? Would Bing lie to us?
Unfortunately, each and every Bing product placement was one of the most hamfisted, noticeable advertising reaches I’ve ever come across in my 26 years of television watching. There’s nothing believable or organic about it. These people would use Google. We all will always be using Google. We’ve sold our souls and our lives to Google and made as much peace with that as possible. I’ll die a cold, sad death before I Bing it.
1. Vitaminwater® — Multiple episodes across Season 2
Now we come to the queen of all Gossip Girl product placements: the infamous and effective Vitaminwater® deal. Think back to the simpler time of 2008: MySpace on its way out, scratching an iTunes gift card with your fingernail to reveal the alphanumeric code, sugar-laden chemicals positioned as health drinks. Who among us didn’t have a favorite, go-to Vitaminwater®? Personally, I loved XXX because it made me feel slightly naughty and reminded me of the Vin Diesel movie where he has his big, meaty chest out, but that’s beside the point.
Episode 2x01: “Summer Kind of Wonderful”
Capitalizing on the explosion of their colorful trend juice, Vitaminwater® inked a lucrative deal with The CW. But no network show had more obvious (and more alluring) product placement than Gossip Girl. The premiere of Season 2 centered on a huge Hamptons set piece: The Vitaminwater® White Party. Vitaminwater® was, and this is no exaggeration, in almost every single frame of the latter half of the episode. By god, it’s even in the background of the episode’s preview frame on HBO Max.
It’s immaculate. It’s absurd. It still makes me crave a Vitaminwater® every time I watch it to this day.
Episode 2x10: “Bonfire of the Vanity”
Demonstrating the effectiveness of Vitaminwater®’s purported benefits, why not have a character order one to recover from her hangover? And to know that she’s hungover, she has to be in a slouchy sweater, floppy peasant hat, and wearing sunglasses inside.
Nevermind the fact that she’s underage and hungover, that doesn’t matter! Vitaminwater® doesn’t judge.
And also, let’s get a tower of Vitaminwater® next to her, yeah, perfect just like that.
Episode 4x21: “Shattered Bass”
As if completely out of nowhere, after you’d forgotten about the Vitaminwater® hyper saturation of Season 2, the bottles appear again like an old friend beckoning us to revisit the sugary lows of chemicals bottled in non-biodegradable plastic. Blair tells her mother that she was expecting a champagne toast for her upcoming nuptials, and instead, her mother and esteemed character actor Wallace Shawn—who I’m still amazed to this day appeared in a multiseason arc when the show was well past its peak—are busy indulging in a collection of brightly-hued Vitaminwater®s to celebrate the Vitaminwater® Design Competition, which was a real thing!
Maybe it’s their bright colors. Maybe it’s their sheer saturation of screentime. Maybe it’s because seeing beautiful people drink a $1.99 beverage really does make us want to buy it, letting us feel like we’re the trendy characters on the hottest television show. Whatever it is (spoiler: it’s all three), the Vitaminwater® product placement was the most effective diegetic advertisement Gossip Girl ever had. Despite the sheer absurdity of its use in the show, it still made me cave to it whenever I was dropped off for a shopping day at Target in the early aughts. Yes, I’m very young.
It’s possible that the awkward, blatant product placement that occurred throughout all six seasons of Gossip Girl’s original run was part of what made me want to pursue an advertising degree at The Fashion Institute of Technology in 2013, attending class with white girls covered in orange spray tans and sporting Michael Kors purses thinking they were giving Blair Waldorf. In fact, I even wrote a term paper on this very subject and got an A on it. Sure, it was only an Associate’s Degree—my Bachelor’s is in Media—but I like to think I’m qualified to know a thing or two about the industry.
That’s how I know that the reboot, or “reimagining” as I’ve seen cast members call it, of Gossip Girl will never be able to come close to all of the glorious late-capitalist hell of the original. Product placement just isn’t done like this anymore, now it’s all so unnoticeable and designed to be insidious, worming its way into our heads without us even realizing it. The silly, stupid brilliance of Gossip Girl’s product placement is simply untouchable. So, while I’ll be watching every episode of the reboot with fervent dedication, I’ll know in my heart that the original solidified a sacred spot at the forefront of the zeitgeist long ago. XOXO.