"You put yourself in a position of weakness," said Jeff Aiosa, owner of Carriage House of New London, Conn., a Mercedes-Benz dealership. "There may be people that are like, 'I'm offended by that show, so now I don't want to do business with you.' "
Slaven is more diplomatic about Mercedes-Benz of Arrowhead's move.
"Product placement works better at the higher end of the funnel than the lower," Slaven said. "But retailers live and do their best work lower in the funnel, and God love them for doing their best to bring customers in however, whenever they can."
Many brands are ready to take their chances with product placements, supplying vehicles they want to promote but stopping short of dictating how they are depicted or described in the script. The placements help them break through to audiences on TV shows that appear on commercial-free streaming services, or when viewers fast-forward through the commercial breaks on recorded programs.
When a product is organically placed in a film or television show, the likelihood of consumers seeing it is high, said Linda Swick, president of International Promotions, a Los Angeles-based entertainment marketing firm.
"A 30-second, 60-second ad, you don't know if they are watching them or not now," Swick said.
Mercedes is no stranger to product placement. The ML320 was featured prominently in the 1997 film The Lost World: Jurassic Park. Mercedes showed off the CLS550 Coupe in the Showtime series "Ray Donovan" and the E-class Cabriolet in the superhero film Justice League.
Reality television show "Keeping up with the Kardashians," meanwhile, brought attention to the boxy G-Wagen.
"Before the Kardashians show, the G-Wagen wasn't on the map," said Aiosa, who is also the Mercedes brand representative for the National Automobile Dealers Association. "Since the Kardashians are driving it, everybody wants G-Wagens."
Product placement is more about driving brand awareness than moving sheet metal.
"We don't expect necessarily for someone to sit and watch 'black-ish' and say, 'OK, I'm going to run out and buy the S class,' " Slaven said.
But by identifying with a character on the show, the viewer also identifies with the products the character uses.
"By extension, there's a higher degree of [product] awareness," Slaven said.