I was watching Columbo yesterday. I have to do something to recover between posts. And I was surprised to see the immortal Mr. Falk drinking an unbranded cola. It was the episode about the architect (aka Howard Roark, aka Frank Lloyd Wright) who deposits his murder victim in the foundations of a building. You know it, Im sure.
Anyhow, they are digging up the foundation and, well, it takes a long time, so Columbo has a soda. The can is silver with a vertical racing stripe. And thats it: no name, no styling, no branding. I am sure the producers thought a branded cola would be distracting, but I have to say an unbranded one was more distracting. It ruined the whole scene for me.
Brands have not been welcome in imaginary worlds. Ian Fleming used them in the Bond novels. Bret Ellis did the same in American Psycho. But generally brands are excised or excluded from acts of the imagination. Alice Munros characters never seem to buy anything and when they do, its always the generic choice. Smart shoppers, apparently. (How much of our literary culture has engaged in this wishing away of commerce? Quite a lot, it seems, and quite enough for a Ph.D. thesis on the topic. Anyone?)
Thanks to product placement, brands do sometimes make an appearance. In January alone, Rolex appeared in WBs Grounded For Life, iPod appeared in NBCs Committed, Oreo appeared in CBSs The King of Queens, Nintendo appeared in ABCs 8 Simple Rules, and Hershey appeared in Foxs Malcolm in the Middle. (Watching TV, looking for product placements. Its pretty much all I do.)
Naturally, we hate product placement. Its like someone has just dragged a needle across the record. All suspension of disbelief stops abruptly. Oh, Rolex! And thats it for our favorite show. It is still worse in the movies. And it is never clear to me why someone would put a $60 million production at risk by putting a Coke can on a table. The movie is diminished. So is the Coke can.
But now that advertising is fighting to make itself heard against the wall of sound that is contemporary culture, product placements of one kind or another are very much the coming thing. Product placement has been moving into the news for some time. It is now also struggling to get a foothold in the blogging world. ( )
Product placement is seen as a way of getting brands out of the dense shipping lanes of marketing into quiet water and real visibility. It is hoped that a Coke can will be the only brand we will see all movie, and certainly the only cola brand. (Though surely, it wont belong before Hollywood producers are chopping up their movies and selling “front end exposure to one brand and “back end exposure to its competitor.)
I dont object to the presence of brands on TV or at the movies. After all, the real world is thoroughly branded, and an imaginary world should follow suit. What I do object to is the presence of a brand: one brand, a sudden can of Coke that looks less like naturalism than a Martian landing.
Hollywood, repeat after me:
Many brands. Good. One brand. Bad.
Alice, may I have your full attention:
Many brands. Good. No brand. Bad.
Time to end the embargo.