Friday, November 18, 2005

Dolphins at the door.

So the Writer’s Guild of America is in high dudgeon over being asked to write branded products into movies and television shows. They object to what they call “hidden advertising”, and they’re threatening to go to federal regulators about it if the industry doesn’t adopt a code of conduct to govern the practice. (Oh, and they want a share of the advertising revenue generated, too. Hey, this is Hollywood. )

For the record, I sympathize. Anyway, I think the idea of camouflaging advertising in entertainment is ludicrous, and approximately as subtle as Chevy Chase’s land shark pretending he’s delivering pizza. The whole debate sells brands short for their power as culture, and sells consumers short for knowing a land shark when they see one. People aren’t buying it. And they aren’t buying it because they know the difference between a brand that authenticates a fictional place and time and one that’s just a parasite to it.

James Bond in an Aston Martin? Most natural thing in the world. James Bond in a BMW? Bought and paid for.

A Coke sign in Times Square? Yup. Coke cups in front of the American Idol judges? Gimme a break.

A scene in a diner with no Heinz ketchup bottles? Not even in the movies.

And Apple can only dream of having the market share they appear to enjoy in Hollywood’s parallel universe, where every dorm room, legal office and trendy apartment seems to have one of their pretty computers smugly glowing in the corner.

I think we know exactly which brands matter culturally and which don’t. And I think we know exactly what authenticates a movie scene and what doesn’t. And I think we see every effort to force either of those things for what it is. Coke just looks desperate, and Simon Cowell looks like, well, like a whore. Meanwhile, ‘the real thing’ somehow ends up losing a little of its authenticity every time that guy takes a sip.

Remember the sketch where the land shark is denied entry after claiming to be a plumber, a flower delivery man, and a plumber again? Confronted, he denies that he’s the shark, claiming instead to be a dolphin. Like all his ruses, it works. But only once. There’s a lesson in there. That Chevy Chase is a keen observer of the human condition, alright.

Hey, wait. CHEVY Chase? You don’t suppose…

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