Why Has This One Product Been In ALL Your Favorite Shows?

Photo: Courtesy of NBC.
It's no secret that product placement is often part of TV shows. Whether it's an overblown statement about a cereal brand or the gratuitous use of a certain tablet, product placement is a necessity to keep your favorite shows on the air.

But if you've ever watched TV, you know that it's not easy to integrate an ad into a show without making it seem obvious. How many times have you rolled your eyes when someone pulls out, say, a less-popular brand of smartphone (come on, that character would definitely have an iPhone) or mentioned an item that has little relevance to the current scene? It's almost impossible to make product placement feel natural, even if the revenue is necessary to a show's survival.

Of course, some shows play up that awkwardness, creating over-the-top, meta jokes about real brands. There were Arrested Development's Burger King conversations, and 30 Rock's joke about product placement for Verizon.

There's another product placement joke, though, that's gained mainstream popularity in large part because of Community. A simple prop brand of potato chips, Let's, has popped up in a variety of drama and comedy TV shows, in more and more exaggerated ways. If you've noticed this Lay's-like prop everywhere, you're not imagining things.

Let's are produced by Studio Graphics, Inc., a design company that falls under the parent umbrella of prop company Independent Studio Services (ISS). They're much older than Community, though the sitcom made many viewers realize the chips' ubiquity in the TV landscape.

Gregg Bilson, Jr., CEO and president of ISS, tells Refinery29 that Studio Graphics, Inc. first created Let's about 12 years ago. But after Community premiered in 2009, the prop became, in a sense, one of its characters. (It's not only Let's that have become part of this phenomenon, either — Bilson cited Heisler beer as another example of a popular fictional brand.)

"It's kind of cool with props, whether they're created or just something that pre-exists... they, in a sense, can become a character within the project," Bilson says. "When that happens, it's kind of special."

Andy Bobrow, a Community writer, says the Let's placement really started becoming a joke when Leonard (Richard Erdman) did a video food review about the chips. After seeing a viral YouTube channel featuring a child's funny food reviews, the writers decided to create their own version, starring Leonard. (He also reviewed other fake foods, like Eugenio's pizza, which was created for the show.) From there, the joke progressed to more discussions about Let's — and, eventually, a fake commercial for the snack.

Community may not have invented Let's, but since its jokes about the prop, other shows have featured prominent Let's placement.

"I don't know if it's just a coincidence, but it did seem to me that after we did that, that we saw them more prevalent [in other shows]," says Rhonda Robinson, Community's property master. "But I don't know if it's just because we did that show, so I noticed them more, or if shows did use it because we did it."

Whether they were inspired by the sitcom or we're just more observant about Let's after watching Community, it's certainly amusing to see a fake product given special treatment in such a variety of TV shows.

We've rounded up some of the background inspiration behind Community's Let's jokes — as well as a mix of other TV shows that have featured the chips. Click through to see some of the places the faux salty snack has appeared.

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