Madison Avenue has a big problem. People don’t watch commercials. They’ve had fifty years to solve this problem (and judging by HeadOn headache remedy spots they’ve learned nothing) but now with Tivo, audiences can eliminate them completely. Advertisers must find new ways to convey the vital message that Lamisil targets toenail fungus where it lives.
Subliminal messages have been tried and outlawed. They can’t slip in the Pepsi logo for one frame in a movie, Mel Gibson can’t throw up a one second title card that says the Holocaust never existed into APOCOLYPTO. But if a character in a movie drinks a Pepsi, that’s okay. And if she should happen to say, “Mmmmmmm, that’s not only good, it’s the voice of a new generation!”, all the better. Product placement has become the new answer. Production companies are thrilled because it’s found money for them. If Earl is going to go to the hardware store anyway, why not make it a Home Depot? And that’s fine until…what happens when the writers decide they don’t need that scene? Or they come up with a better one that’s set somewhere else? Will storytelling have to be compromised to accommodate the sponsor? We all know the answer to that question.
An interactive variation of this is SeenOn.com. Now you can watch GREY’S ANATOMY, like the outfit that Ellen Pompeo is wearing and order it on line. You can also buy Ugly Betty’s stool (I hope they’re referring to furniture). In theory this too is a good idea but I want to be there the day they tell Teri Hatcher what dress she has to wear.
One way around all these pesky “creative” issues is to digitally add products to scenes after the fact. Now Columbo can have a can of Glade in his car, Lucy can clean her clothes with Tide, and the “can you hear me now?” guy can be inserted into the Zapruder film.
Sponsors are happy these days if they can just get the name of their damn product in front of your face or in your ear. This has led to corporate sponsorship and it’s not going away. It’s bad enough that the Houston Astros must play in Minute Maid Park, and there’s such a thing as the Weed Whacker Bowl. I foresee the day when we’ll all be paying our respects at the Wendy’s Arlington National Cemetery. Dr. Sidney Goldstein will be awarded the prestigious Depends Nobel Prize in Chemistry. And we’ll all be living in the United States of Google.
At this point I must sheepishly admit that I too have succumbed to this trend. I’m not proud of myself but since it’s available and the sitcom business has all but dried up, I have accepted a generous offer from a leading manufacturer. And so from now until 2011 (when I have the option to renegotiate) my daughter, Annie will be known as Dow Chemical Levine.
My son, wife, and cat are still available. And just think, all this extra income because people no longer want to see the Quizno’s rodents. God bless, Janitor In A Drum’s America!
Thursday, January 11, 2007
By Ken Levine at 12:10 AM