Story updated with comments from NYU marketing professor.

CUPERTINO, Calif. ( TheStreet) -- Apple ( AAPL) hardly needs to feed the hype surrounding its iPad launch, but the tech giant's product placement team has been carefully putting the device into some high-profile hands.
iPad
Stephen Colbert gets some help from the iPad at the Grammy Awards

Last night's episode of ABC's comedy Modern Family felt like a half-hour iPad commercial -- all that was missing was Steve Jobs and his black turtleneck (the Apple supremo did get a mention, though). The subtly-titled episode, "Game Changer," described a bungled quest to buy one of the first iPads and gave viewers some quick and adoring glimpses of the device towards the end of the show.

"I was surprised by the intensity of the placement -- it wasn't a small part of the story," Jay Newell, associate professor of advertising at Iowa State University, told TheStreet. " But Modern Family fits very well with Apple's marketing -- it's smart, kind of Californian, and middle class."

The show focused more on the brouhaha surrounding the iPad launch than the actual device itself, as if Apple was poking fun at the whole iPad hype-cycle. "Next week -- that's the worst thing you can say to an early adopter!" spat character Phil. The same actor was shown lovingly caressing an iPad at the end of the show.

Part company, part technology cult-leader, Apple has carefully cultivated an image of edgy exclusivity for its products. The Silicon Valley heavyweight is also pushing the iPad as a fun device, as evidenced by recent -- albeit fleeting -- appearances.
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Any thoughts on selling strategies for Apple with the release of the iPad?

Comedian Stephen Colbert briefly brandished the device on stage at the Grammy Awards earlier this year, and Apple ran its first iPad TV ad during last month's Oscars.

British actor and tech blogger Stephen Fry tweeted yesterday that he had taken delivery of his iPad. Fry, who is a noted tech columnist in the U.K., subsequently posted a video on his Web site of the auspicious moment when he unpacked the device.

The iPad, which makes its debut on Saturday, is one of the most talked-about technology launches of recent years. Reports have already suggested that iPad preorders are going through the roof. One analyst has even forecast that 1 million or 2 million iPads could be sold by its debut.

"With the iPad, they are trying to blend the boundaries between handheld devices like the iPod, smartphones and computers," Priya Raghubir, professor of marketing at NYU's Stern School of Business, told TheStreet. "It's obviously something in the middle."

Raghubir explains, however, that new products such as this can present unique supply challenges.

"Coming up with a new product category, one of the biggest problems is being able to forecast demand," she said. " But Apple have got people to sign up for early delivery to forecast demand."

Gene Munster, an analyst at Piper Jaffray, estimates that Apple will also sell between 200,000 and 300,000 iPads over the course of this weekend. "Recent signs have pointed to strong initial demand, which suggests our 900,000-unit estimate for the June 2010 quarter and 2.7 million units in calendar 2010 may prove to be conservative," he added, in a note released on Thursday. "A strong launch would likely be a positive for the stock, but we continue to believe calendar year 2011 will be a breakout year for iPad with 8 million units sold."

In a statement released earlier this week, Apple confirmed that the iPad will be available from 9 a.m. on April 3 at its own Apple stores and most branches of Best Buy ( BBY).

"iPad connects users with their apps and content in a far more intimate and fun way than ever before," said Steve Jobs, in the prepared statement. "We can't wait for users to get their hands and fingers on it this weekend."

Investors are already eyeing the iPad's upside potential ahead of its launch, and Apple's stock has surged in recent weeks.

Apple shares rose $2.28, or 0.97%, to $237.28 on Thursday, outpacing the modest advance in tech stocks that saw the Nasdaq rise 0.49%.

-- Reported by James Rogers in New York

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