Seinfeld did it shamelessly. You see it in movies and on television all the time. Even my favourite bands are hustling cars as I write this. Everyone is joining the product placement game or licensing their work to big business, so it seems… and I think it sucks.
It’s not about the dreaded 90s cliché of selling out. Really. It’s one thing to create a piece of art for its own sake to then find there’s commercial interest; think Flaming Lips. But it’s quite another to be “commissioned” by a fast food joint to create a hit song featuring a burger. Or to remake a classic movie to sell hot little cars (think The Italian Job). It really stinks.
Am I naive? From today’s Globe and Mail, Ronald McDonald recruits a new posse
Radio, other than the CBC and a handful of online stations, is already impossible to listen to given how many obnoxious ads we’re subjected to in a given hour. Now we’re being asked to accept direct advertising in songs too? Will radio stations accept this? Is this just a clever way to circumvent paying for allotted ad space?
Author Jim Munroe is much more elegant in discussing the subject: “There’s lots of good reasons for corporate brands to appear in art. Realism, for instance — they’re a part of the world, like it or not, and no-name products can be jarring. But product placement is like inviting someone to a party just because they have a car — on the surface, everyone wins, since the driver gets to go to a party, and no one has to pay for a taxi. But it casts an insincere light over the whole affair.”
One of his books, Everyone In Silico, imagines a future landscape that’s even more commercial than our own today.
Munroe says, “I felt silly about giving companies free advertising, so I invoiced ten of them for product placement. I got a few responses (though none with enclosed cheques) so once the invoices were past due, I wrote follow-up letters.”
Check out Munroe’s philosophy and letter writing campaign. It’s genius.