Once More… Getting It Right… Sort Of…

Once upon a time, there was an author who wrote a near-future science fiction thriller about a former military officer who had pioneered a technique for evaluating product placement in entertainment.  In case, you haven’t guessed, I was that author, and the book was Flash, which was published in September 2004.  Well… last week, Entertainment Weekly [on EW.com] published a story on the Brandcameo Product Placement Award Winners for 2010.  Yes, there’s actually a series of awards about the effectiveness of product placement in movies.

At the time I wrote Flash, product placement was just taking off, and I thought that, once various devices that let viewers flash past commercials on television become more common, product placement would be the advertising of the future… and it still is, because people are still watching television commercials, and, in fact, commercials are becoming a form of entertainment, at least for some viewers.  Where product placement has really taken off is in the movies.

The movie Iron Man 2 won the award for the most commercial placements, with 64 different placements, while Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps won the dubious award for the worse product placement.  And Apple won an award for the most appearances in hit films, with Apple products showing up in ten (or 30%) of the 33 films that were number one U.S. box office films in 2010, outstripping any other single brand for the year.  Somehow, that doesn’t surprise me.

Obviously, I wasn’t as far ahead of events as I thought I was.  In fact, I was behind the times in some ways, because when I checked into the product placement awards, I discovered that they’ve been awarding them since 2001, three years before Flash was published, and two before I even wrote it – and I’d never even heard of the awards until this year.

On the other hand, I’m still ahead of the times in terms of what I postulated, because product placements haven’t yet replaced commercials on television and… so far, unlike my hero Jonat deVrai, no one has yet figured out the effectiveness of a given product placement.

Still… I’ll take being partly right any day, especially in regard to television and its commercialism.


5 thoughts on “Once More… Getting It Right… Sort Of…”

  1. Joe says:

    With book revenues falling, perhaps you should introduce them to your next book. “Jonat’s Axe Deodorant was beginning to wear off” 😉

  2. Richard Hamilton says:

    When product placement is overused, it’s just plain obnoxious. If I’m paying for admission, pay-per-view, or a copy of media (video, audio, or written), I certainly don’t need to be the target of someone else’s paid product placement propaganda.

    On the other hand, used judiciously, I’d argue it adds realism. The “American Airlines” insignia on the spacecraft in “Silent Running” were more convincing and quicker to make the point of commercialized spacecraft than if some fictional brand had been invented. And fictional breakfast cereals shown when neither permission nor placement was available are just plain silly; I’ve seen them far too many times. Now…I suppose it would be nice to see placement for a breakfast cereal that _wasn’t_ 90% sugar (unless that was the point, in which case it would hardly be good advertising and so wouldn’t get placement OR permission).

    Anyway…in a written story, I can see little need for actual brands to appear unless they’re significant to the story line; product labels would be an irrelevant level of detail mostly. But in something visual, all visible details need to be accounted for. Tossing something in gratuitously does the story no good, but inventing fictional products simply to avoid any complications or appearance of entanglements is also a bit distracting.

    Pervasive commercialism is offensive. Tossing it in where it doesn’t belong does not add value to a story. But concealing it where it would actually exist doesn’t add realism, either.

  3. Derek says:

    I actually just finished rereading Flash today, and I must say it is one of my favorite of your Sci-Fi novels. Haze is still my number one, but Flash is a close second.

    On topic, I’d be more open minded to pervasive commercialism through product placement than the current advertising scheme of commercials. We used to just turn down the volume when a commercial came on in our home because we didn’t want to listen to it. But now we have no choice but to turn it down, because the commercials blast their sound way above the levels of programing they are advertising on. Subtle product placement would be a dream come true, but I’ll settle for blatant placement over commercials any day.

    Then again, I mainly read books now, so my preferences probably don’t matter as much.

  4. Bob Howard says:

    Agree to an extent, but it’s easy to zap commercials if you watch everything via DVR, as we do, but you can’t do that in a movie. I really don’t mind the…well, “thoughtful” doesn’t seem right, but “appropriate to the setting or story,” placement, maybe. I truly am turned off by the clumsy, heavy-handed way it’s done on most TV shows, though. “Bones” has been a good example of that lately, with very intrusive breaks in the plot to mention the particular features of the cars they are touting. Obnoxious and counterproductive to me, it seems. The advertisers could really use a Jonat-worthy analysis.

  5. Randy says:

    You’re far too often, right, Lee…. So, Haze has me particularly bothered… 😉
    Thanks for encouraging me to read it…..

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.