‘Friends’: The Episode That Was Really a Subtle 22-Minute Commercial for a Popular Brand
In 1994, NBC launched what would become one of the most popular sitcoms of all time. Audiences were captivated in the first seconds of Friends, when the catchy theme song promised “I’ll be there for you…” It seemed the entire world could relate to the lovable 20-something characters that spent most of their time in a cozy, NYC coffee shop cleverly dubbed “Central Perk”. As the show gained popularity, it became the perfect place for major brands (like Pottery Barn) to engage in some lucrative product placement on Friends.
What is ‘Friends’ about?
The series revolved around the lives of six zany friends: Monica, Rachel, Phoebe, Joey, Chandler, and Ross.
Monica was the neurotic clean freak and phenomenal chef. Rachel was her sloppy (previously spoiled rotten), fashionista roommate who learned to become a self-sufficient adult. Phoebe brought color, quirkiness, and some really weird phrases to the group as she balanced her time between her masseuse and music careers.
The guys were just as much fun as the girls. Joey and Chandler shared an apartment across the hall from Monica and Rachel.
Joey’s iconic line “how you doin’?” made the ladies swoon. The ongoing debate over Chandler’s mysterious job (something to do with numbers?) grabbed our attention.
Ross may have been a know-it-all at times, but let’s be honest–he had the coolest career. How many of us get paid to study dinosaurs? Ross also had a penchant for getting himself into some hilarious predicaments. Shrinking leather pants, the theft of his “moist maker” turkey sandwich, the moving of the couch (PIVOT!)… Need we say more?
Friends was on the air for a decade, and in that time, the characters truly became our friends. Just like they promised, they were there for us. They were also there for Pottery Barn, who benefited from about 22-minutes of valuable product placement in a Friends episode.
‘The One with the Apothecary Table’
By the year 2000, Friends was at the height of its popularity. Any brand lucky enough to be featured on the show was sure to have consumers beating down the doors the next day.
According to a case study by Brand the Change, product placement can increase brand awareness anywhere between 20 and 43 percent. Pottery Barn garnered more attention to its already famous brand when “The One with the Apothecary Table” aired.
At the beginning of the episode, Rachel excitedly shows Monica the new apothecary table she ordered from Pottery Barn. Monica recoils, reminding Rachel that Phoebe (Rachel’s then-roommate) hates Pottery Barn.
The quirky Phoebe despises mass-produced furniture because it doesn’t have any history and “everyone just ends up having the same stuff.” Rachel keeps the table and tells Phoebe it came from the flea market for the old-timey price of “one and fifty dollars.” Phoebe oohs and ahs over the imagined history, coming from a magical place like White Plains.
The girls head over to Ross’ apartment, where Rachel discovers with horror that he has the same exact table. They hurriedly cover the table with a sheet so Phoebe won’t see it, while Ross continually expresses his disbelief that she doesn’t like Pottery Barn.
Phoebe spills a glass of wine on the sheet, leading her to remove it and discover the apothecary table. After asking Ross where he got it, she becomes furious with Pottery Barn for ripping off the design of their antique table.
Later, Rachel is showing Ross her new decor. Since so much of it is from Pottery Barn — a fact still being hidden from Phoebe — he has a little fun with Rachel. He pokes and prods about which time period each piece is from as Rachel scrambles to make up lies.
After Rachel makes fun of his dinosaur decor, he suggests she bring Phoebe down to that flea market where she got all the great furniture. Phoebe jumps at the chance. On their way home, the girls pass the Pottery Barn window.
Phoebe instantly recognizes all the decor and figures out Rachel’s secret. She ends up purchasing a lamp from the display, but remarks on the way in that “at least the apothecary table is real.” Oh, Phoebe.
Pottery Barn’s exclusive 25th-anniversary collection
In 2019, Pottery Barn renewed their relationship with the popular TV show during the 25th-anniversary celebration. The furniture store launched a 25th anniversary Friends collection featuring numerous pieces, including that infamous table.
Fans could sip their favorite beverage from mugs featuring Joey’s sandwich, Monica’s turkey head, the Smelly Cat lyrics, and a lobster (he’s her lobster!), among other iconic images. The collection also features tea towels (one with a picture of Rachel’s attempt at a trifle — remember, it tasted like feet?), pillows, and artwork. These pieces are all fantastic, but let’s turn our focus to the star of the show, shall we? The apothecary table.
That gorgeous, mahogany work of art had 10 drawers and as Rachel pointed out, held 300 CDs. Also, Phoebe was right–it didn’t quite smell like opium. Pottery Barn brought back the legend, recreating the original piece that customers went crazy for back in 2000. This time, fans paid a hefty price of $1,099 to bring “the days of yore” into their living rooms.
Typically, product placement is done by placing an item in the background of a television show. Friends changed the way product placement is used by devoting almost an entire episode to one piece. They wove product placement into the entirety of the script, creating a story about Pottery Barn’s apothecary table. A few other Pottery Barn pieces got a taste of the limelight as well, including the lamp, sheets, and ornamental birdcage.
The popularity of Friends made it the ideal place for lucky merchants to increase brand awareness. After all, more than 50 million viewers tuned in to say farewell to Friends during its final episode in 2004–that’s a lot of potential customers.