Curated by: Luigi Canali De Rossi

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Product Placement And Hypercommercialism Pervade Hollywood Film Industry: But No-One Seems To Notice

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Product placement presents consumer products, brand names and locations to film and television production teams for inclusion in their projects. The goal is the one of raising brand awareness while selling the idea to movie production houses as a "clever" way to reduce their costs while providing greater "authenticity" to the environments and characters shown.

"Product placement appears in plays, film, television series, music videos, video games and books, and is a relatively new idea (first appearing in the 1980's). Product placement occurs with the inclusion of a brand's logo, or a favorable mention or appearance of a product. This is done without disclosure, and under the premise that it is a natural part of the work. Most major movie releases today contain product placements."
(Source: Wikipedia)

Photo credit: Brand Exposure

As a matter of fact, relative to the high cost of 'above the line' media, where both producing commercials and booking media space require huge money investments, product placement inside commercial films is a highly cost-effective way to gain huge exposure and visibility at a fraction of the traditional advertising costs.

Indeed, product placement inside movies have been around for at least as long as Hollywood has, but it never before has been as influential and powerful as it is now.

Old staples such as compelling narratives and artful film-making are increasingly taking a back seat to the promotion of brands, while many of the key creative decisions are gradually wrangled out of the director vision and handed over to the marketing people.

America, your movie-making dream machine is broken.

And with the Hollywood film-making in such a dire state, there is little wonder that audiences are rapidly turning their noses to Internet television, online video, to Open Source film-making and even to the newest game-inspired film-making craze, Machinima, to avoid the sanitized, hyper-commercialized fare being rolled out by Hollywood.

The saddest thing among these rampant practices, is that film audiences, especially American ones, are increasingly numb and unaware of the consequences and issues connected to such practices and voice little complaints and open critique to this ongoing creative slaughter.

The Media Education Foundation - or MEF - was set up to question our apathetic acceptance of these practices on the part of the mass media, producing a range of thought-provoking documentaries that challenge the media status quo.

''The Media Education Foundation produces and distributes video documentaries to encourage critical thinking and debate about the relationship between media ownership, commercial media content, and the democratic demand for free flows of information, diverse representations of ideas and people, and informed citizen participation.''

As grassroots, people media emerge as a powerful alternative and competitor to traditional mainstream media, it becomes increasingly important to question the motives, assumptions and practices of the "old" media to avoid repeating the same mistakes.

Matt Soar and Susan Ericsson's film Behind the Screens attempts to tackle the issue of Hollywood hyper-commercialism and supplies a solid critique of current mass media marketing practices.

In three short video clips, including highlights from Behind the Scenes, I have attempted to demonstrate the pervasiveness of blanket marketing in mass media culture.

Read on to see just how far product placement has permeated our culture.

Hollywood parodies its own greed

It is no secret, then, that product placement runs rampant through mainstream media and nowhere more so than in Hollywood cinema.

We know it, and apparently they know it.

And yet, somehow many among us still accept and actively finance with movie entrance tickets the production of such shallow movie content.

In this first video, taken from the Hollywood movie Wayne's World we see Hollywood parodying its own greed.

Admittedly it's funny, but only because it strikes a raw nerve. In the average movie, we are subjected to as much product placement as we are character development, and often considerably more than that.

While Mike Myers is smart for taking a jab at the product placement machine, it is ultimately the studio that has the last laugh. There are no Duffs or Brand X products to be seen here - as we laugh at the blatant hyper-commercialism of Hollywood, so we are fed yet more blatant hyper-commercialism.

Setting a fine example: George W Bush

Hollywood is not alone, however. For while Hollywood might take the most flack, product placement has permeated every strata of society, from the commercialization of schools, to presidential speeches.

That's right - presidential speeches.

Now certainly advertising isn't necessarily a bad thing. The growth of online contextual advertising, for instance, has had a great impact in terms of bringing web visitors integrated, non-invasive advertisements that are (at least some of the time) of interest to them.

Product placement is the antithesis of contextual advertising - it attempts to sneak in an entirely different agenda, shaping meaning into meaninglessness in an effort simply to push home its subliminal message. If this is unacceptable to movie goers, it should be even more so to political voters.

In this second brief video we see George W Bush sliding a blatant bit of advertising into a public speaking engagement. Now certainly there are a good few more reasons not to trust Bush than this, but that's another story. What is amazing is that product placement has moved out of the movie theater and up onto the political podium.

See for yourself.

Hyper-commercialism as a way of life

Advertising does not need to work this way. There are other evolving models that allow for a bottom-up, customized and credible approach to marketing.

But for as long as we accept this Hollywood staple gone wild, we will be subjected to pernicious, insidious, creeping product promotion at every turn.

In this final clip, which gathers highlights of the excellent exposé documentary Behind the Screens, we see how advertising serves as the driving force behind Hollywood movies, at the expense of entertainment.

The film blends actual footage of product promotion with sharp critique from screenwriters, critics and political economists. In this clip, it becomes glaringly apparent that:

  • Hollywood has, in the last thirty years, entered a period of hyper-commercialism with much greater ties to marketing, advertising and product promotion
  • The methods of product placement are much the same as those of propaganda. Through repetition and integration into everyday scenes, the unnatural or unnecessary is naturalized and made desirable
  • Even as far back as fifty years ago, diamond companies were bribing script writers to promote the romantic connotations of the diamond engagement ring
  • However, early product placements were ad-hoc, whereas now they have become the norm, impacting upon the entire production process of a film
  • Film-maker's are enticed into branding gadgets and peripheral items in a bid to save money from their inflated budgets. The bigger the budget, the greater the need to offset its risk with the use of heavy product placement
  • Just as TV's integrity has suffered at the hands of insidious omnipresent marketing, so film increasingly sacrifices all to make a quick buck

The future

Of one thing you can be sure: For as long as we accept this diluted pseudo-entertainment, Hollywood will continue to serve it up.

The best thing any of us can do is vote with our feet and with our wallets by stopping this endless funding of this blatant, unethical, uncaring and relentless corporate propaganda machine.

Media are becoming increasingly personal, and increasingly plausible for anyone to take up and get involved in. The days of mass audiences for mass media are quite clearly numbered, and if advertisers want to survive beyond the next decade, they are going to have to take advantage of new business models.

The engaged, discerning audiences of the evolving new media landscape will demand that this involves film-makers, reporters, videographers and other media makers being allowed to retain their autonomy and integrity.

For while many of us accept Hollywood's product placement as business as usual, web audiences, who can pull and steer their viewing preferences with much greater control, are less forgiving, as we are going to increasingly witness in the coming years.

As Hollywood box office figures seem to hold steady figures for the last few years it is only up to you to vote with your choice whether you would like to continue seeing this practices expand and conquer what once was a space reserved for communicating insight, vision, philosphy and our own history.

There maybe a good lesson to be learned here and a great opportunity to regain that credibility and value, that, at least in my eyes, Hollywood has long lost.

Additional reading

If this article has been of interest, you might also want to check out the following websites:

Robin Good -
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posted by Michael Pick on Tuesday, January 9 2007, updated on Tuesday, May 5 2015

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