There’s been some buzz recently about the “advent” of embedding advertising in entertainment. Evidently, research indicates that people don’t like to watch commercials. Crack research team, eh? So embedding product placement seems to be the new radical solution to DVR/Tivo fast forwarding. How in the world is this a new idea?
I still remembered my fevered distraction in watching the film Million Dollar Baby (2004.) And no, not because of the hammering over the head obviousness of the failed attempt of melding two short stories, but by that damn soda machine. I think it had its own stylist, or at least trailer.
While I can understand how placating it is to the client, product placement is just so counterproductive. Not only am I not interested in purchasing the car being given its own role in a primetime television show, I can no longer take the product, the show, the characters or even the poor exploited actors, seriously. Really? An equity member actress having to extol the virtues of the parallel parking features “in character.” That just seems punitive to me. Perhaps a newer generation will be lulled into the embedded advertising, but I was raised on overt label covering in television and film. How many “cola” cans, “Heerios” boxes, “McBurger” cartons have we all seen? Before that trend of course, there was the overt sponsored program. “We are the men from Texaco…” But alas, that was a simpler time.
I can’t help but feel that embedding is the first quiver of a death throe. Towards the end of its 72 year run, the (excellent) daytime drama Guiding Light created a convenience store set stocked with Procter & Gamble products. When the industrial sized Folders can appeared on the restaurant counter, they knew, I knew, Springfield was doomed. It made me question the solidity of Procter and Gamble as well.
Please don’t misunderstand me, I am susceptible to advertising. No sooner did we have a television room in our family than I was clamoring for that toothpaste with the stripes and fabric softener sheets (I was a strange child.) My mother, otherwise impervious to pop culture, or fashion, actually dressed my sister and I in Pepsi-Cola jackets. These were red, white & blue baseball-style cotton jackets festooned with the soda logo. As the younger of the sisters, I wore that jacket for 4 years. And I was thrilled, dear reader, I was thrilled. I admit, at the tender age of 10, I fell hopelessly in love with the Pillsbury Dough Boy; the impish giggle, the soft pliable belly, the association of impending baked good. I’ve also witnessed my brother’s longing for Snuggle. I can still hear his plaintive cry: “But is Snuggle a boy or a girl?!” Once grown to a consenting consumer age, I devoured teen magazines to discover what I should covet. What twisted little advertising genius discovered teenage girls’ desire to smell strange? Love Baby’s Soft, Lemon-Up shampoo, fruit flavored lip gloss. Damn it, I wanted it all. But sometime around the social studies advertising curriculum (8th grade?) it was difficult to not feel a bit cynical. I had never stepped foot in a Wendy’s before, and a quest to find the beef, wasn’t gonna change that.
My suspicion is that advertising is most influential on me (and perhaps you) when it takes on an educational role. Tell me about this new product, and why I need it. I may give it a try (hello Swiffer! nice save Procter & Gamble.) But so much of what’s being advertised is not new. And being new, no matter how confusing and weird (i.e., the Tiffany key and now, lock) is no guarantee to sway me. And when the advertising is annoying? You just lost me as a potential customer. So if I am the last person you want buying your product (and I may very well be) I encourage more humiliation of actors and actresses and definitely invest in some pop-up ads. Oh, and while you’re at it, airbrushed a very over-exposed former television star, and I will so not buy your fortified water.