Branding TV and movies
October 10, 2008 12:58 AM   Subscribe

Remember the days of ACME products and cans that simply said BEER? Product placement in television and film is so commonplace that "product integration" is where the money is now. Some writers are getting very good at it while others wonder if it will be possible to survive without it.
posted by kyleg (43 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Its kind of coming back full circle to the days when all of tv programming was created purely to create a platform for the sponsors, isn't it? thanks for the last link, its an eye opening article
posted by infini at 1:34 AM on October 10, 2008

now that I've RTFA in the last link, I do wonder what would be the logical extrapolation of taking this concept to its ultimate end? something surreal out of Gibson?
posted by infini at 1:40 AM on October 10, 2008

Who's gonna turn down a Junior Mint? It's chocolate, it's mint... it's delicious!
posted by Vic Morrow's Personal Vietnam at 1:43 AM on October 10, 2008 [2 favorites]

Yes, there were heaps of product mentions in Seinfeld - I wonder if they ever got paid for them, or are Jerry and Larry kicking themselves now?

Hm, maybe not ...
posted by awfurby at 2:23 AM on October 10, 2008

infini: something surreal out of Gibson?

Interesting premise, that book. Some of us already are over-sensitive to commercial messages in the media.

The people may not be as gullible as freshman spineless advertising types expect them to be and they would turn to where there is little product placement, or ignore the message. Plus, when it becomes standard, any competitive advantage is lost.
posted by Laotic at 2:33 AM on October 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

If the industry manages to unobtrusively* insert product placements into TV shows and this replaces some or all of the need for breaks, I'd be pretty pleased. I think with DVR's becoming more and more ubiquitous, people can or will be able to pause when they choose and this is a superior alternative. I'd be curious if this would actually cause shows to become longer, too, as breaks were shortened or phased out.

* - this means no blatant spotlighting, no slow pans, no stilted product script monologue. Work the placement into the natural pacing, lighting and plot of the show. And for the love of God, don't overdo it.
posted by empyrean at 2:53 AM on October 10, 2008

This asshole was really aggravating:

"But you know what? Just do a better job integrating! If you’re really an artist, go fucking paint a picture or write a book or do something that’s fully about art. My realization in the film business was it was not about art."

It was about selling product. So he left the movie biz and went into advertising, where the money was, and now he wants to try and convince us that it's a principled choice rather than simply whoring your raddled old unsuccessful ass? Give me a break.

Thank God for the BBC. It's not like I object to product placement in movies. I'm watching a lot of HK cinema lately, and Johnnie To can't have a car drive down the street without going past the same store front and the same billboard twelve times apiece. It's like watching a Roadrunner cartoon with the background repeating every half a second. But I don't care so much because its not that intrusive and doesn't really get in the way of the story.

But if I had to watch a movie in which the characters were talking about 'the warming glow of a Glenfiddich', while the camera lingered over a bottle though, well, fuck it. I can't remember the last decent American movie I saw this year anyway. I wouldn't be missing out on much if I just gave it *all* up as a bad job.

Just as I don't buy products from companies that spam my email, I'm now extending that policy to companies that spam my television programmes and movies. And to the television companies that facilitate the spam. And I know that they don't care a jot about me, but if enough of us do it...
posted by PeterMcDermott at 3:06 AM on October 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

So if we're paying to see cable TV in the first place, why are there any ads at all?
posted by dunkadunc at 3:13 AM on October 10, 2008

What do you think, David Lynch?
posted by jbickers at 3:16 AM on October 10, 2008 [2 favorites]

Jack Donaghy: When I think of the free-spirited Liz Lemon I met just one year ago, so resistant to product integration, cross-promotion and adverlingus, it pleases me to see how well she's learned to follow.
posted by jouke at 3:38 AM on October 10, 2008

I drink your McDonald's™ Milkshake!
posted by leibniz at 4:22 AM on October 10, 2008

NADIR™ Brand Products. Lower prices. Lower quality. Low.

We here at Havalot & Wantmore would like to assure the public that NADIR™ Brand Products are worth mentioning in every possible forum, including this one. Not only because NADIR™ Brand Products cost as little as other products, but also because NADIR™ Brand Products are worth as little.
posted by twoleftfeet at 4:33 AM on October 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

I prefer the Seinfeld manner of product placement over non-brand generics, but sponsored placement sometimes goes too far.

The issue of course is that in real life, we have brands. We like brands, and we're loyal to them. A show about my life would inherently see placement and support for Apple laptops and Coca-Cola products, because I really do prefer them, and I don't like having to drink Pepsi products in restaurants. So yeah, it adds realism to the world.

An interesting corner case seems to be the Nissan Versa in season 1 of Heroes. It was definitely product placement, but at the same time, people refer to cars by their model names, and they're a distinct part of American culture. It would have seemed strange if Hiro didn't care about the car after seeing it in the comic and then on the parking lot.
posted by explosion at 4:44 AM on October 10, 2008

I sure could go for a Snapple right about now.
posted by mek at 4:59 AM on October 10, 2008

As far as I can tell, the whole thing ballooned after the success of Seinfeld (who, from everything I have heard, never received anything other than maybe some gifts after the fact) and rappers name-dropping brand names. At this point, it seems like we are inundated with labels. When the product placement is at least in-character, it doesn't bother me so much, but lots of the time it is just invasive, and insulting.
posted by paisley henosis at 5:34 AM on October 10, 2008

MetaFilter, bringing the blue right onto your desktop
posted by infini at 5:37 AM on October 10, 2008

Whatcha got in the trunk?

Oh... You don't wanna look in there.
posted by tommasz at 5:44 AM on October 10, 2008

There was a sort of joke about this in last year's season finale of House, where he's under hypnosis and the labels in a bar all just say "liquor" and "BEER" - and he says "Since when did I drink "beer" brand beer?"
posted by grapefruitmoon at 5:53 AM on October 10, 2008

It's interesting that they bring up SoyJoy products, because most of the people I know associate SoyJoy with extremely sad middle-aged women. You know, divorcées whose husbands have run out on them, leaving them with bills they can't pay and housepets they never asked for, etc. That kind of woman, sitting alone in her now-shockingly-empty living room, alternating sips of vodka with bites of SoyJoy brand candy bars. The kind of woman who just can't find the motivation to go to the Yoga class she half-heartedly sign up for, who decides that instead, she'll just binge on greasy, unhealthy potato chips between the occasional SoyJoy. She turns on the television, tries to ignore her surroundings, and attempts not to think of her youth, those memories nagging her to recall a time when she still had something resembling the spark of life. She slaps concealer haphazardly over her crow's feet in a last-ditch effort to quell the inexorable pull of the reaper, and ambles off to the store to buy some more SoyJoys. "How will I pay the heating bill this month?" she thinks, and realizes she can no longer feel much of anything. She eats a SoyJoy. Standing in the supermarket, she realizes she is now eating chocolate chips straight out of a ripped-open bag in the Baking Goods aisle. Another SoyJoy follows. The security guard at the store gently pulls her aside and asks her to leave. "I'm not going to notify my manager about this," he says, "Because I don't want him to press charges. I kind of just feel sorry that any of this is happening." The woman nods, and eats another SoyJoy. She exits the store, gets back in her car, and sighs. She places her fingertips on her temples and rubs them, her eyes closed. She eats a SoyJoy brand food snack, then realizes she has eaten too many. She opens her car door, and quietly vomits onto the sidewalk.
posted by Greg Nog at 6:15 AM on October 10, 2008 [18 favorites]

I don't mind product placement in television or advertising if it's done well. I find it far preferable to the "greeking" used several years back; labels blatantly changed or carefully obscured, that sort of thing. For a show in which a family is making dinner, having a box of Kraft mac & cheese on the counter isn't visually jarring to me, but an altered box is: It still looks recognizable as a Kraft product (blue box, etc.) but is wrong enough that I notice it due to the altered labels. I know in some cases this is difficult: companies don't want their product featured in the wrong context ("Hey, look honey - Jack Nicholson is using a Sears Craftsman brand wood axe to assault his family!") and in other cases producers might want to preserve the realism of a show by including everyday, recognizable items but do not wish to imply endorsement of any specific product, for legal or other reasons (for example, a show on NBC might get heat from above for featuring non-GE appliances in a prominent way).

Blatant, in-your-face "this is advertising" inclusions are jarring and off-putting. While sometimes they can be made to work (Mike Rowe on Dirty Jobs seems to be able to shill for Ford, while pointing out that he's shilling for Ford, without offending me) usually it ends up as crass (how many times do you see a local news show featuring a "news story" about another TV show that happens to air on the same network? Fox especially, you cheap bastards... the latest scoop on American Idol voting is NOT NEWS, assholes!)

Inclusions that don't break the illusion the characters live in a real world are fine with me. The trick is to do them casually: If you were walking down a city street, you might pass a Gap store or a Starbucks, so it isn't jarring to see these kinds of outlets in the background; you're crossing the line when a character gushes about how good the product is, by preferred brand name (You might say "cracker", but no one in the real world says "Nabisco brand cracked pepper and olive oil Triscuit"). If subtle placement can move us to a world where TV execs finally kill off the insipid pop-ups that are now taking up the bottom 2/3rds of my screen after every commercial break, I'm all for it.

Disclaimer: This post sponsored by Nabisco® brand Cracked Pepper and Olive Oil Triscuit® naturally flavored baked whole grain wheat crackers. Nabisco® is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Kraft Foods Global.
posted by caution live frogs at 7:11 AM on October 10, 2008

Product placement is definitely growing by leaps and bounds.
Even though shows are becoming full-length ads, people still watch.
Perhaps someday there will be a way to "block" these product placements.
Sort of like an internet 'Ad Blocker.'
I 'd buy that.
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 7:27 AM on October 10, 2008

I think that this has reached into cartoon shows as well. 'The Simpsons', which has a (deliberately) simplified and somewhat sketchy drawing style, featured an immaculately detailed and completely out of character rendering (with both interior and exterior views) of a car in a fairly recent episode. Someone in the interior scene scolds Homer: 'Shhhh!!! No talking... atmosphere!!'. The lack of dialogue of course leaves the viewer with little to do but to admire wonderful appointments of that fine automobile.... (I guess it worked. I remembered that scene pretty well....)
posted by Kronos_to_Earth at 7:39 AM on October 10, 2008

This goes a long way toward explaining Fred Willard's appearance on MadTV as the swarmy product-placement agent.
posted by Eideteker at 7:41 AM on October 10, 2008

Sprint on Heroes is driving me crazy this season.

'Look at these pictures on my Sprint cellphone!'

'I'm in the Sahara desert and have no cell reception...should have gone with Sprint. You know, Sprint Africa.'

30 Rock on the other hand is brilliant. Can we have our money now?
posted by sixswitch at 7:46 AM on October 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

Oh, for.... "the wonderful appointments..."
posted by Kronos_to_Earth at 7:47 AM on October 10, 2008

In periodicals publishing, the first thing you learn is that the editorial matter, the stories, are just there so that the ads don't bump into one another.
posted by Forrest Greene at 7:55 AM on October 10, 2008 [2 favorites]

I have a sudden craving for a SoyJoy.
posted by LordSludge at 8:01 AM on October 10, 2008

What would it be like to remove the advertiser from the equation? I'm sure a lot of internet types would love to see direct pay-for-content models (with appropriate samples), or even just free content then pay-what-you-feel/buy-the-DVD. Both are nice in theory, but what's the reality? I'm one of those glassy-eyed idealists sometimes, but I guess the function of the advertisers is to subsidize the content until it is adopted by fans. Would Dr. Horrible have been so successful if Whedon was an unknown? How has the model worked out for the artists (rather than the folks who own the site)?

Hope springs eternal, but I have a feeling we've a long way to go.
posted by Eideteker at 8:08 AM on October 10, 2008

For product integration, I generally try u-substitution.
posted by Earl the Polliwog at 8:39 AM on October 10, 2008 [2 favorites]

What does David Lynch think about blurring the line between art and commerce? Google "david lynch georgia coffee" and find out. Or see his commercial work (as in commercials by David Lynch) here.
posted by eccnineten at 8:39 AM on October 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

posted by Mister_A at 8:58 AM on October 10, 2008

How has the model worked out for the artists (rather than the folks who own the site)? has no business model; it's a thing budding filmmakers can do for publicity, but it doesn't give people actual income. The people I know who've gotten the most out of it have been freelance commercial filmmakers whose success in channel101 gave them exposure that encouraged companies to seek them out for commericals and music videos and such.

I really like commericals, but the whole reason I don't mind them at all is that they approach salesmanship honestly; as discrete units, they say "Here, I'm going to try to convince you to buy this." Integration, on the other hand, is founded on dishonesty, because one never knows what's characters are saying as the result of a creative choice, and characters are saying because a bit of money changed hands behind the scenes.

In the article, Charles Rosen says, "you know what? Just do a better job integrating!" Which, no; one could just as easily insist that advertisers should do a better job creating commercials that people will actually want to watch -- an approach that's a hell of a lot more honest and respectful of the viewer. Rosen also says, "If you’re really an artist, go fucking paint a picture or write a book or do something that’s fully about art. My realization in the film business was it was not about art." But reducing one of the twentieth century's greatest mediums to a business proposition is taking an embarrassingly short view of human artistic development, pushing us further into the realm of moneymaking as the most worthwhile human endeavor, rather than the accrual of wisdom. That is a fucking gross way to think, Charles Rosen. (And while this may be a little unfair: with the lack of judgement he seems to be showing, I kinda doubt that his indie film about black HIV-positive drag queens was actually any good. My guess is that his move into a product-placement career was precipitated less on a Road To Damascus realization that capitalism is THE TRUTH, but rather, that his independent filmmaking was ultimately just as shallow an attempt to accrue cultural capital in the same way that his current job is an attempt to accrue actual capital.)

For those who think a few mentions of Snapple or whatever aren't significantly changing the artistry of the writing, I feel I should point out that there's a much more insidious kind of product-pitching that happens alongside actual product placement. A little while back, I was dating a lady who worked for NBC. She'd mentioned that her job had something to do with product placement, but was vague on the details. One night, when we'd both had a fair amount to drink, she started talking about what her job actually entailed: She read through scripts to ensure that the messages in NBC's television shows contained the basic moral and emotional values their sponsors wished to encourage. She didn't check for quick mentions of the products themselves, but for pervasive themes that reflected the emotional states that marketers wanted associated with the products. So a product that was supposed to instill feelings of domestic bliss couldn't be advertised during a show that dealt with a painful divorce, for example. The general effect, she said, was that scripts became a little more bland, a little more innocuous, to satisfy the advertisers.

I hadn't known product-placement was quite that insidious. There are people working right now to emblanden scripts, whose actual jobs are to make our entertainment less challenging. They are being paid to make sure that we're thinking less and buying more. This is a problem.
posted by Greg Nog at 9:01 AM on October 10, 2008 [4 favorites]

Agree with previous folk - 30 Rock does a nice job of mocking the hand that feeds them. I'm not sure if I'm really more or less inclined to buy the suggested products, though I'll probably notice them in stores now and laugh a little.

The worst sponsorship I've seen is Ford's sponsorship of Toby Keith's shows life. Seriously, this is the worst of superliminal advertising. Do most Toby Keith fans need to be slapped in the face with FORD IS A BAD-ASS AMERICAN TRUCK HAULING AN AMERICAN TON OF AMERICAN PRIDE? I'm not a huge fan of country music, but this really degrades the general image of country music fans.

Weirdest cross-marketing? Mannheim Steamroller branded Cinnamon Hot Chocolate. It's in my cupboard, but I haven't opened it yet. I was a bit scared, but my general intrigue got the better of me.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:06 AM on October 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

So if we're paying to see cable TV in the first place, why are there any ads at all?

So if you pay to buy a newspaper or magazine, why do they have ads? Same business model, income split between advertiser/subscriber. The decline of newspapers may indicate a future decline of the whole business model, or maybe not.

And I believe that ACME is now a trademark owned by Time Warner, but I suspect one of their Intellectual Property lawyers is a coyote.
posted by wendell at 9:29 AM on October 10, 2008

I honestly don't see why anybody has a problem with this. What is being lost here? The 'purity' of television? Its 'integrity'?
posted by signal at 9:39 AM on October 10, 2008

I have a sudden craving for a SoyJoy.

Yes, I want a SoyJoy because I want to vomit quietly in the street!
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:48 AM on October 10, 2008

30 Rock on the other hand is brilliant. Can we have our money now?

Totally. Although, I did go to an Arby's soon after hearing Isabella Rossellini state her affection for their Big Beef and Cheddar.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 10:18 AM on October 10, 2008

I wonder what this will look like in 50 years, when all this media is "classic," but many of those products will be long gone or different. Will it be as easy to overlook, or will it be glaringly obvious and ruin the shelf life of a lot of movies? OTOH, the old variety shows used to have a lot of in-show advertising, but it was distinct from the entertainment itself. The host would often hawk the products, and I see this is becoming more common today on Letterman and on Conan.
posted by krinklyfig at 10:27 AM on October 10, 2008

I wonder what this will look like in 50 years, when all this media is "classic," but many of those products will be long gone or different. Will it be as easy to overlook, or will it be glaringly obvious and ruin the shelf life of a lot of movies?

I imagine the shows will be reedited to sell different, available products.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 11:21 AM on October 10, 2008

highly irrelevant but kinda, back when I worked for the Second City, we had a request for Tina Fey to be our primary spokesperson for a Ericsson phone launch event at the Network + Interop tradeshow back in 1999. she's cool! ;p
posted by infini at 12:02 PM on October 10, 2008

Eideteker: I'm sure a lot of internet types would love to see direct pay-for-content models (with appropriate samples), or even just free content then pay-what-you-feel/buy-the-DVD. Both are nice in theory, but what's the reality?

The reality, I suspect, is the production quality of most porn, since this is the business model of porn.
posted by desjardins at 1:58 PM on October 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

“So if we're paying to see cable TV in the first place, why are there any ads at all?”

You want cable TV? You can’t handle cable TV!
Son, we live in a world that has brands. And those brands have to be advertised by marketers with ad copy.
Who's gonna do it? You? Your generic products?

I have a greater responsibility than you can possibly fathom. You weep for Acme and you curse the product placements. You have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what I know: that Acme’s demise, while tragic, probably saved ad space.

And my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, rejuvenates your marketing, strategic branding, and product findability.
You don't want cable TV because deep down, in places you don't talk about at parties, you want me to give you time to get up and get a snack, you need me to give you a short break to go to the bathroom.

We use words like differentiated brand, product loyalty...we use these words as the backbone to a life spent developing a strategic marketing campaign. You use 'em as a punchline. I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps on top of the very Sealy Posturepedic I provide, then questions the ad campaign in which I provide it!

I'd rather you just bought me a delicious and refreshing Coca-cola, and went on your way.

Otherwise, I suggest you pick up an infomercial and apply directly to the forehead, apply directly to the forehead, apply directly to the forehead.
posted by Smedleyman at 3:00 PM on October 10, 2008

For product integration, I generally try u-substitution.

Or Integration by Partners.
posted by twoleftfeet at 7:10 PM on October 10, 2008

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