Musings over the nuisance of product placement
I’m asking in honesty. Usually I’m so busy wrapping my head around the movie that I don’t notice. But I assume it’s there, all the time, everywhere. And my the way I fel about it is: the less I know the better.
This week the issue was brought up to the top on my mind in a rather brutal way as I went to the pre-screening of an upcoming Swedish film.
The product placement was so blatant that even I had to pay attention. It couldn’t escape me how they forced a certain recreation park into the story, first having the protagonist appear in their sing-along-show and then making him take a stroll in the park, unable to take his eyes away from the lemurs they keep. I cringed. They could as well have tossed up a sign, saying it loud and clearly: “this movie was brought to you by…” It bugged me no end.
Why it’s there
While it annoys me, I also know why they have to do this. Some films make a lot of money of course, but not all. Filmmakers struggle to make ends meet. The ticket sales only cover a part of the costs and they need to find other sources. Not all film concepts can be turned into plush toys, t-shirts and mouse pads for additional incomes. Every stone has to be turned in the chase for financing, so compromises are made, limits are pushed and artistic integrity is stretched thin. So we’ll end up with those scenes where the camera will rest a little bit too long on that phone or drink or computer. Because they see no choice. After all, it’s business, just like everything else.
I see the reasons. But that doesn’t mean I like it.
The only kind of product placement I can accept is the one I’m not aware of. Then, and only then, does it work as it should. If a Rolex watch in the movie can reinforce the special effects budget, it’s fine with me. I just don’t want to know.
Don’t break my immersion! Don’t make me start thinking: “oh, look, there’s an obvious piece of product placement”. Be discrete. Be manipulative. Be invisible.
The concept is that the cunning marketing people put secret images into movies. The images contain messages about that you should buy their product, but they pass by so quickly that you won’t even register it in your conscious. Without your knowledge it will stick in your mind and affect your actions.
This idea, which goes under the name “subliminal advertising”, is easy to believe in.
Who doesn’t feel overwhelmed by all the advertising? Marketing is everywhere. I’ve seen claims that we’re exposed to about 3 000 messages per day. There’s nowhere to go, nowhere to hide, unless you move into some Amish like existence, and I’m not sure if even they get away from it. So it doesn’t take a lot of conspiracy thinking to assume that the advertisers play around with our minds without our knowledge. After all they have so many other tricks in their sleeves, so why not one more?
There is just this one little thing about it. It doesn’t work and it never did.
This happens to just be one of the most persistent urban legends. As a matter of fact, it has stuck so well that I had to look it up before writing this post. I needed to refresh my memory. Was this just a phoney thing or was there any truth in it?
It turned out that it actually started with a little, little grain of truth. But that grain crumbled into dust back in the 60s.
The story is that there once upon a time was a marketing researcher named James Vicary. In 1957 he presented a study where he claimed that sales of Coca Cola and popcorn among moviegoers had increased after they had been exposed to 0.03 second ads. Five years later he admitted that the study was a gimmick and he stepped away from the public scene, never to be seen again. However this admission doesn’t prevent the idea from living on.
In the choice between having my film experience littered with unnecessary, clumsy shots of various brands or being exposed to a few hidden messages (which don’t affect me anyway, since subliminal advertising doesn’t work), the latter doesn’t sound all that bad.
My Friday night musing post is almost finished and the weekend is about to enter. May it bring us many good movies and very few cringe worthy product placement moments.
But before calling it a day I’ll bring you a drink of your choice. You can keep the brand a secret. No product placement, you know.