The Trouble with Your Refreshment System

Curator's Note


In 2007 and 2008, a flurry of complaints about product placement were lodged with the FCC.  Central to several complaints was evidence from an episode of Seventh Heaven in which Oreo cookies were prominent. The concerned parents and lawmakers feard that spectators would not see that Kraft sponsored the Oreos, and that the “hidden” nature of product integration makes it a dangerously misleading practice. Of course, this anxiety about the persuasive power of product integration stems from a reading of entertainment media that privileges the persuasive power of narrative over the visual. In this formulation, it is somehow less distressing for Oreos to be visibly consumed than it is for them to act as a narrative vehicle. I offer here a preliminary revision of this misdirected focus on narrative when raising ethical and/or aesthetic questions about branded entertainment.

This video is a promotion for a film and a clip from that film. The pairing evokes a series of meta-references to product placement as a convergence practice. If you are familiar with Top Gun you will see that the cross-promotional Diet Pepsi commercial cleverly appropriates a spectacular sequence from the film. You may also recall that the film (and, as such, this ad) functions as a promotional video for the U.S. Navy. What you may not recall is the way that the film’s primary narrative stream is resolved. In the final scene, the neon Pepsi sign disrupts one of film narrative’s most sacred rites: the final kiss.  The obstructive power of the sign, the face of this industrial ménage-a-trois, suggests that in the era of advertainment, narrative is a vehicle for visible branded content, and not the other way around.



 Leah, that's a frightening concept indeed. That cinematic plots are crafted around products (or, to put it another way, products are the context and 'container' in which cinematic plots take place)...that in essence, movies have evolved to become no different from television commercials. 

I'd like to point out however, that mainstream film has always taken place within the container of 'products'...albeit once unbranded objects, but always being specific to certain 'style(s)'. 

I would amend your argument to reflect that the 'object' of the theater/cinema is the ultimate container in which products operate to give the illusion of 'narrative'. Essentially, any object in a film or a play is the result of 'product placement'---the playwrite, director, stage designer or what have you have selected that object for presentation as 'setting' in which the narrative takes place. 

The fright is more derived from fear of corporate control than from an 'object' as container of narrative...a seemingly obvious distinction, but I point it out more to ask the question:

Isn't corporate product placement inevitable in cinema?

I don't understand the widespread baby-boomer concept of "the good ol' days"...what good old days, exactly?

The formula of narrative design is product placement. 

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