I guess you could say I’m a bit of a romantic. I tend to think of life as one great novel. Or movie. And each of us is the author of our own story. Our lives are filled with chapters that play out succinctly between the beginning and the end. Sometimes there are celebrity cameos. Sometimes “M. Night Shyamalan plot-twists.” Sometimes our favorite characters get killed off abruptly (don’t worry, they’re probably on a much-deserved vacation in Saint-Tropez). We’re all starring in one big Truman Show-esque production of our own lives. I’m not saying that we’re being filmed at any given moment (I see you, Big Brother), but I am saying that we are products. We all have a “brand personality.” We’re all advertising something.
Selling Out vs. Staying In
Product placement is often the focus of media scrutiny. This isn’t new news. Once upon a time it was a cleverly-placed laundry detergent bottle in the background of our favorite sitcom; these days, it’s often a blatant feature of a medium’s storyline. People naturally have mixed feelings about this phenomenon: is it selling out, or is it staying ahead of the inevitable curve?
The idea of “traditional” advertising is becoming more and more obsolete. This isn’t a judgment against any brand’s strategy, or a thumb-biting directed toward any creative team, or anything of the sort; it’s merely a comment on the nature of cultural evolution. Smart and creative print and TV spots still get attention, sure, but not without the help of YouTube, or Tumblr, or any other social platform. Traditional advertisers are certainly aware of this; and the probability of a spot going viral is often considered a key component in the overall strategy.
Don’t worry, I have a point.
Think of the current “buzzwords” that come to mind when you think about marketing. Go ahead. I’ll go get a snack.
Does hummus go bad?
Hummus definitely goes bad.
These “buzzwords” probably include words like “integration” and “transparency” and seriously, someone should’ve warned me about the hummus. Anyway. The point I’m trying to make is that marketing is not just a wide shot of Danny Tanner hand-washing his delicates with Clorox anymore. Marketing is (or is becoming) the perfect mixture of past success and future vision. It’s honest. It’s in-your-face. And it’s real. Or at least it should be.
Music videos are an obvious medium for marketing messages. For any late-comers, please see Lady Gaga’s “Telephone” video and then continue reading. Thirteen instances of product placement, and over 111 million YouTube views later, it begins to become apparent that the line between product and consumer is blurry; and, more so, that the line between medium and message is nearing extinction. (I know what you may be thinking, “seriously with the Lady Gaga thing again…” Let me just tell you: the woman is a media mastermind. A marketing genius. The first person to ever reach 10 million Twitter followers. Just saying.) Bottom line: product placement is here to stay.
Product placement is so here to stay that Morgan Spurlock of Super Size Me fame made an entire documentary about using product placement to make a documentary. The Greatest Movie Ever Sold. In response to a question about the film bordering on losing its value by becoming the very thing that it’s satirizing, Spurlock stated, “I don’t want to suddenly feel like like I’m watching a 90 minute commercial. I think there’s a fine line, and ultimately, one of the biggest things is that you have to kick all these companies out of the writers’ rooms. Let the creative people do their job.”
Attracting Attention by Blending Perfectly
Which brings me to my main point: product placement shouldn’t be about subliminal messages or “hiding;” product placement should be about problem solving. It should be about being a part of the overall creative goal. Think about television ten years ago with all its blurred logos and black electrical tape across brand names. Now that’s just silly. How are we supposed to believe that these are real people with real lives if they’re not even allowed to hold a can of a certain name brand soda?
There are many people who believe that quality content and revenue-generation are inversely proportionate. I believe that that’s a pretty outdated way to view things. Quality content and revenue generation are one in the same. And if they’re not now, they will be soon. There is an art, and even a beauty, in using product placements wisely. I’m certainly not saying that I want to see a character or an artist or even a social media platform stop everything and address a product directly – the best product placement is done when it’s not a distraction to the overall story – but we live in real life. We are real people. We interact with real brands.
Our lives may not be being filmed at any given moment, but that doesn’t mean that we are not a powerful medium as a people. Everything we wear, everything we listen to, everything we eat and drink, and watch, and Tweet, and tag on Facebook, and laugh at…all of that…matters to someone. Even if it’s just one person. Even if it’s just for a second.
We are the greatest social medium of all.
I told you I am a romantic.