In the United Kingdom, Mail Online writer Richard Simpson left little to the imagination in regard to his stance on product placement in entertainment media.
This, through a piece titled, “Product placement to be allowed on British television in lifeline to struggling broadcasters.”
In the U.S. the tactic is so blatant that brands can be as prominant as the stars themselves….
Critics … argue it will destroy the trust of viewers.
Setting aside for a moment the unsubstantiated premise that blame needs be heaped high on those this side of the pond, I was utterly struck by Simpson’s use of the word “trust” here. One would think it a prerequisite that a writer skating on the ice of film criticism would not have heard the phrase, “willing suspension of disbelief.” Since when do we go see fantasy and drama in reliance upon trust?
It’s also rather amusing that this Mail Online piece so heavily depends on product placement images by way of graphic support. One example makes the point. Four — including a very attractive leg shot from American Idol that almost contradicts his point regarding Coca-Cola (but makes for a nice visual), and, of course, Pierce Brosnan as James Bond sporting his iconic Omega Seamaster — seems more complicit than indicting.
Those of us old enough to have seen All in the Family in prime time likely require little effort to recall images of the yellow can marked “Beer” as called for by Archie Bunker. Protected from the brand, we were even more strongly impressed with the category. Um, thank you for protecting us?
On the other hand, I was recently at a friend’s house for an informal get-together. Every car in the drive and along the street visibly proclaimed its maker. In the house itself, audio controls and the widescreen television were clearly branded. An ice chest was filled with clearly labeled beverages in cans and bottles. And don’t get me started with what I saw on the boxes when pizzas arrived.
Carrying so-called product placement concerns to their logical conclusion, should I question the long-earned trust of my buddy if he serves soft drinks from an ice chest where bottle and can labels are clearly evidenced? Or if a pizza arrives in a box adorned with its source franchise logo? Surely the ethical dimension becomes further pronounced if he’s been given a discount for a large party order.
Fundamentally, one must ask how movies and television are financed in the first place. Is a distinct commercial message between program segments (where perhaps manipulated viewers ride right into them on gripping plot momentum) preferable to an integrated presentation? Maybe ticket prices should be increased to pay the true cost of the ride. Maybe we should do away with free enterprise in entertainment media altogether, in favor of government financing that doesn’t cost anyone anything. Oh, wait: It actually does.
In the final analysis, product placements are inherently accountable on any number of fronts. I’ll name two. First, the audience determines what is excessive with its patronage, rejecting films that exploit their captive attention here and expressing displeasure by not returning, not going in the first place. Second, product placement investments are made on behalf of supplier stakeholders to which they are thoroughly accountable. Placing a product within a film, with the intend that said visibility will increase sales, is measurable and being measured. Thus, an even greater pressure on creative talents to make the best possible film.
It’s time to stop taking pot shots at this straw man. As we say in marketing, you’re all sizzle and no steak here.