Thursday, January 11, 2007

The Taco Bell Drano Ken Levine blog

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 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!


Anonymous said...

There's a great scene in the little-known independant comedy about filmmaking "And God Spoke" where, thanks to a product placement deal, Moses - played by Soupy Sales - must carry a six-pack of Pepsis along with the tablets down from Mt. Sinai.

Stephen King has been mentioning brand names in his novels for decades without receiving money from the companies, just because people tend to say "Could you bring me back a Pepsi from the kitchen?", not "Could you bring me back a generic Cola drink?" Boy, has he been missing out on a gravy train.

Anonymous said...

As a professional huckster and adgrunt, I feel compelled to say those little Quiznos rodents probably got more Tivo love than the shows they interrupted.

Man, of 99.9% of ads, you manage to pick one of the forty or fifty out there that are actually pretty sweet.

Amorphous, post-apocolyptic gerbils that didn't sell sandwich one? Maybe.

But still pretty sweet.

Also on the list:

Skittles ads.
Starburst ads.
FedEx ads.
Anything featuring the "Stop Freakin'. Get Beacon" tornado.
Geico Cavemen.
Maybe a Burger King ad.
Maybe the apple stuff. (Full disclosure, I'm friends with the writer of these.)
Emerald Nuts ads.

Anonymous said...

Don't forget to sale space on their foreheads.

By the way in any early version of the trailer for Gibson's Apocalypto there was an "easter egg", a single frame in which Gibson was seen posing with the natives . As I recall they removed that version pretty quickly (this is long before his unfortunate run in with the Malibu police) so I'm not sure it can be found anymore.

Maybe you can sneak your daughter into a frame of Gibson's next movie to fully maximize her advertising value? Just a thought.

Anonymous said...

Does Mom know about this?

Anonymous said...

As a copy-monkey myself, I agree with Dean. But perhaps I'm biased.

I think some ads can be entertaining.
Those deranged, singing chinchilla's always tickled me.
And how about the ol Budget Jet Pack ad?:

And lest we forget, advertising drives TV, funds the programming and allows us to watch shows for prices that are less than a movie ticket.

(This blog comment has been brought to you by: First Horizon Home Loan... Get home with less stress)

Anonymous said...

Is Taco Bell still sponsoring special appearances by Britney Spears and Lindsey Lohan?

Anonymous said...

I hate the stadium sponsoring. Best spoofed on The Simpsons where the WBA game was played at "Gee Your Hair Smells Terrific" Arena

Anonymous said...

when will the Gibson bashing stop? he already said he was drunk, what more can a person do to distance himself from his actions? when we all think about it, with all those people around him it comes as a small surprise that noone suggested to Adolf the obvious line: "When the enemy comes, just say you were drunk."

oh, and a very special hello from blog I've seen in a long really should get paid for this :)

Ben said...

I find it fitting that Taco Bell and Drano have finally teamed up, considering how their respective products function.

Jack Ruttan said...

I say Mel hasn't had half the kicking he's deserved.

For information on advertising on this comment space, please ...XGJK^^^.... *no carrier*

Anonymous said...

I think that the commercial is going to go the way of the dinosaur. The Ad world has been moving down a few avenues (product placement definitely being one) to get schlep their clients' stuff. One that I worked on for IBM included "long form" commercials: essentially two-minute films that conveyed the coolness of IBM Servers.

We created four episodes. It worked. People do like to be entertained.

Does this mean that Ad Copywriters should buff up their screenwriting?

Well, in another project I worked on, we actually produced a feature length film (a mock-umentary) that got some major press, and was fully funded by a beverage maker.

Did it work? Well, I don't know if anyone started drinking more of this stuff after watching the movie, but it was in there, and the movie wasn't about the drink.

Stay tuned...

Anonymous said...

I meant "to schelp".

I hate it when I incorrectly conjugate my yiddish.

Anonymous said...

I forget where this is from, but some movie had "Preparation H Stadium" as a joke about the awful names that sports facilities have now.

Diane said...

Since I think the non-stop erectile dysfunction commercials during the Super Bowl were more offensive than Janet's pierced boobie - good riddance

p.s. but I do enjoy the Geico caveman commercials, and I even kinda like Manning's master card ads

Anonymous said...

The largest part of my "career" has been creating TV/radio spots on a "local" level.

Yes, I'm the guy responsible for those "Crazy Ernie's Used car and Check Cashing" commercials.

It's always been a strange feeling to know that I create things that people hate.

Especially radio ads.

Whenever I've had to explain to people what I do for a living, the response is always, "Oh, I hate commercials."

And at the local level, you deal with miniscule budgets and clients who don't want their spots to be entertaining.

And yet radio and TV salesfolk are still convinced that advertising in it's current form is effective.

Even when presented with overwhelming evidence that most people change the station or Tivo past the commercial breaks.

(this post brought to you by Tivo)

Malachy Walsh said...

I think Wieden in Portland has an entertainment division.

And an ad agency for Rheingold Beer spawned a fairly funny show about it.

And you ever check out the adventures of Chad who loved Monkey Ball so much that he decided to live in a bubble?

Definitely better than most current television sitcoms (the 3 that are still around). And shorter too:

It's kinda like the 50s when Blah blah blah sponsor brought you a program. Only it's via the internet now.

Anonymous said...

Over 30 years ago, one of my jobs at KGIL was writing copy for local radio promotions for Universal Studios. When they added "The Parting of the Red Sea" to the tour, I wrote and aired the slogan: "Anything God can do, Universal Studios can do better."

That aired exactly once. No listener complaints, but Universal called in a huff.

Now if someone could just invent a way to Tivo ads in movie theaters. I REALLY hate knowing I paid $10 to see these commercials!

Dwacon said...

I walked into the office and said to my co-workers, "Mmm... nothing like rich creamery butter on a stack of Aint Ja Mamma's pancakes."

Too bad, I really enjoyed working there...

Anonymous said...

I think people watch SOME commercials. Namely, good commercials. And Super Bowl commercials.

The Comcast commercials? Hilarious. Lexus commercials? Awesome.

Then there's commercials that work but are annoying. Head On, Mucinex, Herbal Essences, etc.

Then there's the completely forgettable ones... obviously I don't have any examples.

Anyway, I think people watch commercials. I mean come on, we're lazy. Nobody wants to change the channel during commercials and then have to deal with changing back frequently to see if the show is back on. We'd much rather just sit there. The goal is getting people to REMEMBER commercials.

And most people don't have Tivo.

Anonymous said...

Maybe "Most people" don't have Tivo. I don't. I do have a VCR though, and always fast-forward through commercials.

When watching a program while it's actually being broadcast (How last century of me) I am not too lazy to hit the mute button. And there's nothing too unusual about my channel surfing during commercial breaks, particularly if the show has been less than riviting. I'm a guy, and like most guys, I'm not really interested in what is on; I'm interested in what ELSE is on.

As for Superbowl commercials, perhaps you're right about that. I don't know. I've yet to watch a Superbowl, and I have no plans to start anytime soon.

But the fact is that overall, people actually watch far fewer commercials than they did 30 years ago.

EditThis said...

There was the great scene in "Thank You For Smoking" when they were trying to figure out how to get cigarettes into their space movie:

Nick Naylor: Cigarettes in space?
Jeff Megall: It's the final frontier, Nick.
Nick Naylor: But wouldn't they blow up in an all oxygen environment?
Jeff Megall: Probably. But it's an easy fix. One line of dialogue. 'Thank God we invented the... you know, whatever device.'

Claude said...


If the sitcom business has "all but dried up," what has taken its place? Reality shows?

Is this a natural ebb and flow in the writing world, or is the death of the sitcom imminent?

Anonymous said...

I seem to remember a reference to Coca Cola in the 80's film "Volunteers" when Tom Hanks' charactor offers Rita Wilson's a Coke, she drinks it and says something about how she's missed it(at this time "New Coke" was on the market as some geniuses decided to replace the original, and for those that haven't seen the film, it takes place in the early 60s, long before the 80s Coke thing). A short time later the Coca Cola company introduced Coca Cola Classic. Cooincidence? Ken?

Anonymous said...

Personally, I'd probably watch more commercial sif there were less of them :) The number of commercials between programs seems to have grown over the years - maybe if there were only 3 ads I'd watch them all through. As it is, whenever a break starts I mute or start flipping channels, as they seem to go on forever. Plus there are too many breaks of course - let's get that down to 3 maximum in one half hour program.

So there's my solution - ban more than 3 ads per break and 3 breaks per program, and the advertising industry will be saved...maybe...ah forget it, we'll all just have to pay more for TV in future.