In the summer of 2009, the HBO online store launched the new soft drink Tru Blood, based on the synthetic blood substitute featured in the popular HBO drama True Blood, the substance that allows vampires to “come out of the coffin” and live among humans. On True Blood, this beverage satisfies the vampire’s hunger for human blood, in theory if not always in practice. The description of Tru Blood on the HBO store site (http://store.hbo.com) boasts that the synthetic blood beverage on the show has been “de-fictionalized and emerges into reality as a delicious blood orange carbonated drink.” While the Tru Blood featured on the show attempts to mimic the look, taste, and texture of human blood, the defictionalized Tru Blood wisely resists that mode of imitation, focusing instead on creating an exact replica of the Tru Blood bottle. The conversion of the textual Tru Blood into extratextual Tru Blood replaces substance with style, capitalizing on the fashion for vampires by defining vampirism as fashion.
The HBO store markets a network of fantasies (or fangtasies, to adopt one of the show’s favorite puns), presenting the defictionalized Tru Blood for consumption in venues remote from the show’s fictional location – the seedy, supernatural swamp of Bon Temps. The secular form of transubstantiation offered by the defictionalized Tru Blood will likely be enjoyed most frequently by affluent consumers and devoted fans, consumers who can afford not only to subscribe to HBO but also to buy Tru Blood for $4/bottle plus $8 for shipping, a steep price for a soda.
I selected this commercial for Tru Blood because it points to both the strategic blurring of the fictional and defictionalized versions of the product in HBO’s marketing and the gendering of its consumer public. Most of the commercials produced for Tru Blood explicitly identify a male consumer, and two of them directly recreate the mise-en-scène of the beer commercial. I’m interested in how that consumer focus might connect to Jennifer’s discussion of the gendered profile of the Etsy community and the discussion of “manvertising” on In Media Res several weeks ago.
I have been meaning to netflix TruBlood, as a friend who knows me well describes it as 'vampire porn' - something I'm sure I'd like. This post resonates with me in particular because of your capture of HBO's phrase 'de-fictionalized' and your description of the shop's 'network of fantasies'. This aligns with the substance of my post yesterday on the marketing of domesticity. I think back also to the sitcom 'Friends' and the associated shop where fans could purchase items used or worn in an episode. And then back again to the alleged empathic response to romance novels of eighteenth century female readers who after too much reading went and got themselves seduced. What makes viewers so susceptible to these fictions that they are turned into shoppers? Are viewers who buy a bottle of TruBlood soda extending their media consumption or riffing, creating their own stories?
A close look at the cans being toasted in the beginning reveals them to be de-Simpsonized Duff Beer cans. An in-joke, I'm sure, but also an interesting cross-pollination between fictional universes.
Stranger than Fiction
If I had just seen this on Youtube, I would have thought it was a clever satire of vampire culture. But once again, truth has proven stranger than fiction-- the great commercialization engine has turned to satirizing itself for profit!
This Blood's For You
Thank you so much for posting this! The commercial is hilarious! One really wonders what the meeting was like when they came up with this idea... talk about sanguine marketing strategies!
Following your link to the HBO site, I was amused to find that they offer the drink as part of an "UItimate Party Kit," which includes the beverage, a bottle opener, and pint glasses. This, weirdly, makes perfect sense: some of the creepyness of the fact of the blood orange blood simulation beverage is obviated when one imagines it as a favor at a viewing party, a prop in a fan culture orgy.
I would follow up your clever formulation about vampiric fashion trends with another layer. I understand exactly what you mean when you suggest that substance is replaced by style, but, given the fact that the style is expressed as a beverage, it seems to me that in this case substance is replaced by style as a substance. I haven't seen the show (and what I know about vampires is limited to The Count on Sesame Street) but it does seem that the Tru Blood beverage projects a fan/consumer who seeks an eternal convergence with the brand.
Thanks for posting this. As you know, I'm a recent _True Blood_ convert, and I haven't gotten sucked into the paratextual world much at all yet (I know, I know, I couldn't resist!). I wondered if you knew more about the origins of the ad. Does it run on the HBO Store website (I couldn't fine it)? It might be interesting to think about the original or intended space of paratextual encounter in relationship to the ritualized homosocial space of the men's camp out. As you point out, the ad is clearly interpellates a masculine _True Blood_ fan; I'm wondering whether it's shown in a context that addresses (or produces) women's interest in the show?
Buying Tru Blood
Thanks to everyone for their questions and suggestions! My encounters with the marketing of Tru Blood suggest that it is being marketed for multiple consumer/viewer groups simultaneously. Tru Blood was first launched (after several months of hype and speculation) at Comic-Con in San Diego in 2009 by Omni Consumer Products http://omniconsumerproductscorporation.com/, a California-based corporation that specializes in “licensing, defictionalization, and reverse-branding." Their previous products include Sex Panther cologne (from Anchorman) and Brawndo: The Thirst Mutilator (from Idiocracy). While the addition of Tru Blood to this “masculine” suite of products might suggest that Tru Blood was launched with a male consumer in mind, the 2009 and 2010 Comic-Con campaigns extend to both male and female fans of the show. Tru Blood, in fact, was just honored for an “outreach” award on the “All Things Fangirl” blog.
On the HBO online store, you can find bottles of Tru Blood next to Fangtasia and Merlotte’s pint glasses (the two bars featured in the show) as part of the “ultimate party kit” Leah referred to in her post. While Omni Consumer Products emphasizes the “extreme attention to detail” in the design of the Tru Blood bottle, the inclusion of Tru Blood in a more conventional set of defictionalized products may undermine its allure. HBO’s invitation to outfit your home with all of the necessary accessories for a True Blood viewing party overwhelms the more provocative invitation emblazoned on the t-shirts also sold on the HBO site: “Turn me!" Jennifer’s discussion of Etsy’s marketing of domesticity itself might provide a productive framework for an analysis of the marketing of Tru Blood. Imagine the video blog that might be made as a tour of a home outfitted in True Blood glassware and other defictionalized products: Etsy meets Comic-Con!
While it is tempting to situate the marketing of Tru Blood within the sites and discourses of fandom, it is important to note that Tru Blood has also received attention on a variety of lifestyle blogs (being featured recently on “justluxe” next to a Burberry ad, for example) and in mainstream publications like New York Magazine. These reviews are archived on the beverage’s official site: http://www.trubeverage.com/. Caetlin, I originally discovered the various Tru Blood commercials on this site. (The link to the commercial I posted is the only one that remains there, but there are others available on youtube.) The bonus features on the Season One DVD include the commercial I posted and one other Tru Blood commercial (referred to as the “French” Tru Blood commercial and showing a failed adulterous encounter between a woman and her vampire lover that ends with the vampire reluctantly settling for a bottle of Tru Blood.)
I've been toying with the idea of defictionalization and thinking about how it distracts us from the marketing that's already present in the shows we watch. It's sort of an extension of the idea of product placement -- like product placement after the fact. These shows are always so busy selling themselves.
I wondered if there couldn't be other HBO shows for which this company, Omni, might consider marketing. Couldn't there be intimacy advice manuals based on 'Tell Me You Love Me,' and, perhaps, um, a line of sweaters based on Gabriel Byrne's wardrobe on 'In Treatment.' Would 'Band of Brothers' pose a problem for them?
Mixing it with 'Etsy' also seems like a brainstorm, Lisa. A hand-woven can cozy might be charming.
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