10-31-03, 06:17 PM #1
Product placement and advertising in commercial art - meandering thoughts
Do endorsements and product-placement damage the integrity of cinematic presentation?
I've been having a hair-splitting day, and so I offer the following considerations for carving and slicing.
Among people there is occasionally debate, mostly removed and sometimes employed as a semi-rational excuse, regarding whether art imitates life or life imitates art. To a certain degree, both are true; Hollywood itself relies on paper-thin presentations of characters expected to be "believable" insofar as the audience is expected to sympathize in general and experience specific catharsis somewhere in the recitation of the story. Art imitates life insofar as the conditions of life are familiar allow a communicable metaphor to present the underlying thematic issues. Teenagers in the industrialized world look to musicians and actors for fashion trends, and this trend doesn't really stop except in limited specific cases. Whether politicians, religious icons, novels, poems, authors, movies, actors, music, musicians, &c., people find a certain sympathetic value in creative presentations and the presenters that are not based in reality: these values are created. And here life imitates art insofar as it strives toward the simplicity and style of a seemingly more acute and satisfying passage.
But how true can an artistic representation be? Whitley Streiber's Billy, the downright creepy tale of a twelve year-old boy abducted by a tragic sociopath, is written in a very common lexicon, attempts a very close and natural voice. As a result, the narrative is littered at certain points with brand names (restaurants, shoes, &c.) which are familiar to us. This is a slightly uncomfortable situation, though for no objective reason. Perhaps it is our mistrust of "advertising", but except for benchmark brand-names (Rolls-Royce, Gulfstream, Dom Peringnon, &c) that generally convey status, most American literature is not a litany of familiar brand names and market posturings. Most of that is done through allegory and metaphor.
Admittedly, Mike Meyers is Canadian, but still his humor hints after this very relationship between consumer and brand name in the movie Wayne's World, when Wayne and Garth have an odd moment which is filled with "accidental" brand-name endorsements (Pepsi/Frito Lay products, as I recall) while decrying product placement.
Yet what is the line? Ne'er have I complained about the endorsement in the closing credits of a talk show or game show, "Host's wardrobe provided by ...." But what is the difference between this form of advertising and, say, the product-placement in modern Bond films, which are walking advertisements for brands both indicating status and seeking to indicate status.
And to what degree do such concerns affect a film?
Computers of late have begun depicting not random operating systems in film, but the film producers and technology companies have been seeking ways to work real operating systems and software products into the films; I'm trying to think of the film, but I remember thinking once that there is no way in hell that character would use AOL for email and internet service.
And that's the thing: for some films, the extra legitimacy of a real product gives the artistic product a greater sense of verisimilitude while, for the software company, it's great advertising through product exposure and positive associations. (Anyone remember the 24 laptop conspiracy? Watch film and television closely: Apple has brilliant marketers in that sense; remember The Royal Tenenbaums?)
But at some point, it seems that product placement and advertising concerns can wreck an artistic project. There is, at the beginning of Zemeckis' Cast Away, for instance, a five-minute Federal Express advertisement, and the amount the FedEx logo appears in the frame becomes distracting and surreal throughout. As the logo passes through view, it is obviously no longer a testament to reality, but a posed shot intended to give the sponsor its due screen time. Compare this against The Royal Tenenbaums, in which any computer user who isn't entirely self-insulated recognized tables of Apple G4's. And it was perfectly logical that this particular character would power his office with Apples; he was last sane in a period before Windows was a real factor. (I was in a US Bank branch Tuesday and the officer who served me had one computer on her desk, a classic tan Macintosh. I told her how nice it was to see those things still around, and she said, "Well, it runs. Why get rid of it?")
And what happens when a company's sense of property challenges the artistic depiction? Matt Groening, creator of The Simpsons recently discussed on NPR the occasion that FOX almost sued itself in an attempt to protest a satirical depiction of FOX News. (In suing those responsible for creating and airing that episode of the show, FOX News would have had to sue the FOX Network itself.)
Will we come to a day when the "verite" aspect of the television being on in the background is the pronounced advertising slogan of FOX News or NBC's Must-See TV? (When she arrives in Hell, director Nora Ephron will be strapped to an AOL terminal trying to filter spam while listening to that damned "You've got mail!" voice over and over for all eternity.)
And all of this creates a problem for anyone attempting a sense of American verite, regardless of the artistic medium.
For instance, I intend to make a film someday that is excruciating to watch insofar as it depicts, for ninety minutes, people as we cannot stand them--familiar to us. The joke I've always told my friends is that writing one of the characters for the project is nigh impossible, since most people would find a serious character study of this person to resemble a vicious exaggeration. But today, over a bong rip (imagine that), another issue struck me, which motivates the larger considerations of this thread.
Simply, part of my verite film would involve a baby sitting in a high chair ignoring attempts to feed it because it is transfixed to the iTunes visual display while whatever music plays. But knowing a little about the ways of the American audience and the web, it struck me almost immediately that discussions would ensue here and there about the use of iTunes in such a prominent fashion. Because it would probably be the beginning of the film, and instead of a CD case opening, a hand taking out the disc and putting it into the stereo and pressing play (an all-too-familiar way of opening a film) the process would involve mouse-clicks, and the images could not help but reveal an Apple computer.
Contextually, though, these issues don't challenge visions that don't include that sense of necessary reality; I still intend to rip off a line from South Park in the novel I write for my daughter, and if I ever get to make the movie out of it, I intend to actually exploit the footage from the original cartoon as Satan and a character share an abstract moment amid the chaos.
I'll stop there for now. Yes, it's an incomplete rambling, but why pretend I ever finish anything?
But there is something weird about reading the word "nikes" instead of "sneakers" or "shoes", annoying about the way Bond strikes a pose with this or that wristwatch, and generally unnerving about how clean the Nikes are, how pressed and crisp the Banana Republic, how downright bizarre the soda wars are on the page. "Coke", "coke", "soda", "pop", "soft drink"? Only when characters start asking for a Pepsi or a Sierra Mist instead of a Coke or 7-Up does it start to seem strange. Or a film starring Mare Winningham a few years ago (Georgia?) in which I remember reading in the Salem, Oregon Statesman-Journal that Rogue Brewery, a quality microbrewer on the Oregon coast, was celebrating because their labels had been picked by the film's producers for placement in major scenes; there's something creepy about the way people hold their beers in some movies. I've never been able to read labels like that when walking around in a bar.
10-31-03, 09:37 PM #2and2000xGuest
Don't forget Fight Club. During the film there is that little talk about commericalism taking over the world and what not, then we see a camera zoom through a trash can filled with tons of logos.
10-31-03, 10:52 PM #3
10-31-03, 11:20 PM #4
10-31-03, 11:22 PM #5Originally posted by CounslerCoffee
Or Josie and the Pussycats: The Movie.
11-01-03, 12:04 AM #6
Re: Product placement and advertising in commercial art - meandering thoughtsAnd to what degree do such concerns affect a film?
Sometimes it's as if they take it too far. In the movie Swordfish we watch Hugh Jackman and Halleberry drink Heineken’s. Then a commercial airs on TV:
"This is the most interesting part of the movie Swordfish" *We see John Travolta sitting in a chair, surrounded by women, drinking a Heineken.*
This would lead me to the belief that the movie companies and the advertising companies have a “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” policy.
The problem will begin when I pop a DVD into my computer and a certain products website pops-up.