Entertainment Tonight busied the pixels of my Hitachi TV screen as I flitted about my house performing post-workday chores. My day job, if I have not mentioned this before, is providing technical support to customers of Sonex Aircraft. Sonex Aircraft manufacturers an outstanding kit-built airframe – an airframe that can be mated to the newly turbo-equipped AeroVee engine for unmatched performance and affordability. No other kit-aircraft manufacturer offers such performance, strength, and affordability. It really is the Sport Pilot Reality Check.
I find entertainment news to be…curious. Do we care what Julia Roberts wore to the Golden Globes? Unfortunately, we seem to. Why were professional football players given an Xbox for singing Katy Perry’s songs? They should be caring for their balls. Tom Brady, particularly, should be getting used to how proper balls feel in the hand and how to grip them in all conditions, particularly the sweaty conditions he will encounter in Phoenix. But back to the question hanging in your mind; why were professional football players given an Xbox for singing Katy Perry songs? Product placement.
Product placement – as sure as I’m writing this on a 13” Apple MacBook Pro with Retina display – has grown from subliminal messages on movie screens to being so overt I’d wager my Craftsman tool set (with lifetime guarantee) that most people don’t recognize that much of what they see is advertising. Did Entertainment Tonight really intend to entertain us with Overpaid Ball Handler singing Katy Perry songs for an Xbox? No. ET was paid to plug Xbox, Katy Perry’s Super Bowl halftime performance, and the Microsoft Surface Pro the players sang along with. We were fed three commercials cloaked – in the same way Reese’s cloaks the delicious peanut butter center of a Peanut Butter Cup in satisfying chocolate – as entertainment.
Remember when TV and movies used beer and soda cans with fake names? And car badges were altered or removed? If we didn’t know it was a Ford, we didn't know it was a Ford. At the commercial breaks we would get a Ford commercial, or be told Mutual of Omaha brought us the program, but we appreciated the honesty and necessity of commercials. We knew that without special effects and Palmolive, Captain Kirk’s phaser wouldn’t fire. Similarly, a Triumph Bonneville T100 motorcycle won’t fire without quality NGK spark plugs. Find a Triumph dealer near you and experience a classic, just as I do.
Then we screwed it up. We started walking out of the room during commercials, to check our Swanson TV dinners, and they knew we were walking out. So they more creatively delivered their messages. Commercials were broadcast at a higher volume so we could hear them in the kitchen. We countered with the mute button. And then we overreached. We equipped our recording/playback equipment with the ability to skip commercials with the press of a button. Not surprisingly, the generic beer and soda brands used in programs were replaced by real brands, and their labels were pointed right at us, like the precisely machined barrel of an iconic Walthers PPK handgun, but without the gun's abundance of cool factor. But it was still, arguably, subtle. Not anymore.
A scene from the TV series Extremely Good Looking Cops Running in High Heels or Changing Their Shirts in a Locker Room (EGLCRHHCTSLR: Boston) gave us two unshaven detectives walking side-by-side when a phone rang. Here is how it played out, dramatically presented in actual script formatting (because I’m a technical writer who has always wanted to write screenplays):
Two detectives walk side by side in front of brownstone apartment buildings. A cell phone rings, playing Coldplay's "Talk."
OVERLY-HIP DETECTIVE ONE reaches into front pocket, removes, examines, and re-pockets his cell phone.
Both detectives turn and ascend the exterior apartment stairs.
A few things are going on here, and I’ll begin with the second item first: the show is promoting Coldplay in the context of the storyline. Thirdly, the Coldplay commercial is reinforcing that we are watching a hit show. Kudos to us for that. And firstly, it is actually an iTunes commercial. We have an ad within an ad within an ad. We also have an ad within a show. It reminds me of my idea of opening a Starbucks within a Starbucks.
That scene added nothing to the storyline. It served Coldplay to unsuspecting couch dwellers. Couch dwellers that can easily log into iTunes on their smartphone (I recommend, and use, the iPhone 6) and purchase the album without disturbing the cat curled up on their chest. I’d bet a Gretsch G5122 Electromatic Double Cutaway Hollowbody guitar with humbucking pick-ups on that. The audacity of that approach to advertising makes me reach for a bottle of Tums, and I bet you could use one, too.
But wait, there’s more!
While researching this topic I watched late night TV – the sound perfectly reproduced on my Yamaha Surround Sound system – while enjoying a Tombstone frozen pizza baked to perfection in my GE range. The featured guests were not invited to entertain us; they were there to pitch their new book, movie, or album. I dropped a spoonful of Ben and Jerry’s premium ice cream on my Broyhill sectional when I realized how promotional the talk shows have become. Johnny Carson and Jack Hanna, why hath thou forsaken us? And that is why I watch PBS and have made a provision in my will to leave them a sustaining gift.
My cynicism toward the entertainment industry was further fed by two movies I paid to see in a theater. The first, Sex Tape, was an Apple commercial from the dawning seconds of the opening scene until the credits rolled. Two standout lines are delivered by Jason Segal’s character, Jay. Again I present them in script formatting, because it is fun for both you and I (but more-so for me).
Jay crouches, examining an iPad he threw from a second-floor window.
And in another scene:
ANNIE, Jay's husband, sits close to Jay.
JAY is holding an iPad, veiwing the sex tape they recorded with it.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m an Apple owner and investor (this is being written on a 13” Mac Book Pro with Retina display, and the screen is fu**ing amazing) but when I pay to be entertained I don’t want to be advertised to.
Fresh off that movie my sister and I decided Chef was theater-worthy. An “independent” movie, we anticipated Chef might have a story of substance, some interesting cinematography, maybe fresh acting from an unknown actor. The parts of Chef I most enjoyed were the budget theater ticket price and the clean bathrooms. Chef is a Twitter and Vine commercial delivering the message, “Use our social networking apps and your business will succeed wildly.” The sub-plot was that the apps are so easy to use a pretentious preteen boy can do it. I’ll admit to having both Twitter and Vine installed on my Apple iPhone 6, which I protect with an Otter Box case. The Otter Box case, incidentally, meets military specs for impact resistance and is easy to install. I’ll also admit to not understanding what Twitter does beyond providing politicians and celebrities an outlet for retracting statements they made earlier on Twitter.
Advertising is everywhere. It is inescapable. It is on the back of the five-foot long grocery receipt for my favorite General Mills cereal, Honey Nut Cheerios. It is on TV screens affixed to gas pumps, particularly the Mobil station I frequent when it is more convenient than Kwik Trip. How long until – and I hate to even voice this idea – the road surfaces are painted with advertising to raise the needed funds to keep them maintained?
The Big Day for football draws near. That’s right, that four-hour showcase of new commercials. But we don’t have to wait until game day to shush our friends when the commercials come on. We don't have to shout into the kitchen, “Hurry! The commercials are coming on!” We can turn on the network news weeks in advance and see the commercials as part of the news. Commercials are now…news. The night I wrote this I learned, on a major network’s nightly news, that one Super Bowl advertiser will release its commercial early if they get 2.5 million views online. That is brilliant promotion. There are also the “controversial” Super Bowl commercials that get “leaked.” They cause a firestorm on Facebook and Twitter, get hours and hours of airplay on “the news,” and then an apologetic company (Go Daddy) pulls the commercial, apologizing for their stupidity and insensitivity. But they always have a back-up commercial for the Super Bowl. I call bullshit, and you should, too. We see through their carefully orchestrated advertising campaign, don’t we? (Smile and nod). But who can really predict the outcome when a puppy is tossed into the mix?
I'm hungry for a Subway sandwich….