And the award for best product performance goes to . . .

Marketers are boldly going where no advertisers have gone before — subtly into the minds of viewers.

With an explosion of media and devices designed to bypass commercials, marketers are integrating their products into the fabric of movies, TV shows and social media sites. That’s not news. It’s the escalation and arrogance that’s taken this contemporary version of the 1960’s subliminal advertising to new heights.

A few examples: In February “American Idol” became the top TV show ranked by product placements when it delivered 102 instances of product appearances over the month, according to Advertising Age. Rounding out the top five are “The Biggest Loser,” “Gossip Girl,” “The Academy Awards” and “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.” “The Academy Awards” squeezed in 57 brand appearances. Top brands for all TV placements included Chevrolet, Coca-Cola, Microsoft, Cybex exercise equipment and Apple.

oscar_statueThere are several variations of product placement. There’s generic product integration, where characters smoke whether the act is germane to the plot or not. There’s product placement, where the product is a prop, like the case of Canadian Club, where the whiskey received hands on and on-screen exposure in at least four scenes of a recent episode of “Mad Men,” from characters handling a bottle to shots of the product sitting on a counter.

Then there intrusive product integration, such as the time when “Monk” character Adrian Monk told a squad room full of police not to worry about tracking a suspect because “I have a Dell and it’s fully loaded.”

Sports programs are famous for integration, from scoreboards branded by Gatorade to NASCAR racers covered with logos to commercial placements in EA Sports video games. The trend is spreading to social media, where product placement has come to Farmville among other games and sites.

It seems film has always included products as secondary characters. BrandChannel counted placements by 64 unique brands in “Iron Man 2.” It’s a marketing strategy that works, sometimes in reverse: the engagement ring worn by Bella in “Twilight: Eclipse” has become a real product.

You can see a montage of films with prominent product placement on YouTube.

And the winner for the most ubiquitous brand? Apple Computer, which won BrandChannel’s “2010 Award for Overall Product Placement” in its annual Brandcameo Product Placement Awards. (Runners up included Nike, Chevrolet and — no surprise to “Idol” viewers — Ford.) Apple products appeared in more number-one films in 2010 than any other brand — 10 of the top 33 films by box office receipts. In the past decade Apple products have starred in one third of all number-one movies — 112 of the 334 top-grossing films in the United States.

What, no Oscar for Steve Jobs?