I was watching the last episode of 24 the other night, thinking to myself about how many last episodes had been on in the previous 24 hour period (and since I DVR these things to watch later without ads, my 24 hour period may be skewed a bit). LOST was over (wow, they’re all dead, who saw that coming?), Chuck had reached their season finale (wow, Chuck’s still a spy, no matter what else happens. Who saw that coming?) And now 24 was coming to an end. I drifted in that thought for a few minutes and then as I went back and forth from the tv to my iPhone to check twitter and Facebook (I’m pretty pathetic) I watched as Freddie Prinz Jr. spoke on the phone in a parked car while a big truck pulled in right beside him. So close and so obvious was the truck pulling in that I thought spies or FBI guys would hop out at any moment or a door would open and somebody would shoot Agent Ortiz (FP, Jr.) in the head. Nobody spends that much expensive screen time and film and shot angles putting a truck beside the car not to use it for something. But the conversation went on and nobody shot Ortiz. Nobody jumped out of the truck. No teams of spec ops guys in black Kevlar surrounded the vehicle. No nothing. I was about to consider that maybe I was wrong. maybe the truck was just a truck, maybe nothing was going on and I was just drifting away into these thoughts because the story telling on 24 has been unbelievably bad this season (even more unbelievably bad than all previous seasons,… and still I’m watching it.) And just as I was accepting my wrongness, the scripted phone call was over and Ortiz had to get somewhere,… quickly. (nobody on 24 every just hangs out for a few minutes to smell the roses.)
But wait,… there’s a truck blocking him in. No, hold on. that’s not the right inflection.
BUT WAIT, THERE’S A TRUCK BLOCKING HIM IN!!!!
Without even batting an eye, Prinz Jr. puts the car into reverse while looking at the mid dash console. A video display of the rear view camera pops up, the car speeds backwards out of the confining area, does a quick J turn at just the perfect angle to see the back of the car and voila, just like that, the purpose of the truck’s placement is explained. We see, not too overtly but overtly enough to notice, that the car is a Toyota. And we see that mere seconds after we see how cool it is to have a rear view camera and how handy it could be if you were a CTU operative. And none of it would be possible without our hero being blocked in by a truck necessitating the speedy reverse driving. Product placement. Crafted product placement. Carefully thought out, scripted, integral to the story development (even minutely), product placement. Qudos to FOX and to 24.
This is the visually entertaining world in which we live. Most folks now have a DVR that allows them to skip past the commercials and soon there won’t be any tv’s sold in the US that don’t have DVR technology built right in to them. TV advertisers can’t use the old model to sell goods. Hulu shows segments split by single commercials, but twenty other places on the web show original programming (pod productions and such) with zero commercials. Very soon, you won’t be able to get a TV that doesn’t have the internet as one of its features. So product placement has to become the way of life. It already is, in fact. This has been going on for a long time.
Hell, jump into the “Way Back” machine and you’ll see Michael Jackson drinking Pepsi in his videos/Pepsi Commercials. The ad revenue from PepsiCo defrayed the cost of making the most expensive music videos in that time period. Audi and BMW pay fortunes to movie producers and hand over a couple dozen vehicles per film just to have spies drive their cars in super cool action movies. It’s been going on for so long, in fact, that the term product placement doesn’t even elicit a “huh?” from my mother. What is new about it though is the craftiness with which it is employed.
When I say craftiness, don’t confuse that with the crassness with which Donald Trump has rebuilt his fortune and the Apprentice franchise with the most overt product placement ever exhibited. Every episode, every challenge every introduction or wrap up commentary is product driven. And why not, it makes millions of dollars for Trump and provides a 2 hour prime time commercial for Snapple or Kodak or whoever. That’s not really product placement. It’s just opportunistic advertising.
No, the craftiness that I’m talking about is the stuff you don’t notice or just barely notice. And that’s really the trick. If you don’t notice it, the advertiser probably isn’t getting their money’s worth. It might have stuck in the subconscious but maybe it didn’t and, not to put too fine a point on it, the subconscious doesn’t buy BMW’s or Taylor Made golf club But if your conscious mind wants to drive a car just like the one that spends nearly two hours defending the galaxy in The Transformers movies, then you need a Chevy Camaro. And not the old one that you can get on Craigslist or auto trader.com. No, that wouldn’t benefit Chevrolet. The Car that the poor kid somehow accidentally lucked into in the first movie as a used car, turns out in the second movie to be the retro design of the brand new, $30,000 Chevy Camaro released just in time for the movie launch. That’s crafty.
Fox’s 24 also lets us know that if we want to make great conference calls with video and multiple layers of encrypted security, we should use Cisco. If the logo wasn’t enough to tell us that, the actors on-screen will usually mention it at least once per show that includes conference calls. And I assume that 24’s producers figured “in for a penny in for a pound” because every phone call made on that show is on a Verizon phone. For the last several years, every time a new, cooler model of phone was available at Verizon, it debuted on 24 and those people live on the fricken phone. There’s 20 call’s per episode and for most of them, we get to look directly at the phone while the character is dialing.
What kind of laptop should nerdy types use for blogging and video conferencing and online gaming? Well, if you watch The Big Bang Theory on CBS, you’ll see that the smartest of nerds use Dell and Alien (a high-end Dell), oh, and by the way, they play XBox, too. Don’t think for a minute that either of those choices is an accident. Those items, placed thus and so, bring in extra revenue for the show’s producers. And, these are dollars that don’t have to be split with writers, directors, actors or 2nd AD’s.
I’m not really sure where it ends. I’m pretty sure that we can’t even imaging what entertainment media will be like in 20 years. Will it be 2 dimensional or 3? Will it depend on a screen for viewing or be pumped into our heads? Will advertising continue to be placement or will it become something even less obtrusive but more invasive or even subconsciously suggestible? I have only ideas,.. and reservations bordering on fears. But I’m an old guy (by advertising terms) so I’m not really the target anyway. My kids are. And they don’t even bat an eye. They don’t think about it unless I bring it up. And then they look at me like, well, like I’m an old guy who just doesn’t get it.
And they could be right.