Pop Culture Futurist Part 2: Product Placement

For the last two years, the TV show Chuck has had a deal with Subway, featuring an absurd amount of product placement. And I think we’re going to see a whole lot more of that it in film, television and comic books, as it’s a major revenue stream, and it makes piracy a lot less of a problem.

Networks usually don’t want you to download stuff for free, since they believe it cuts into their revenue stream. But when it’s all glorified commercials, the companies are going to want it to be readily available on their website, so that there’s no barrier between you and the advertisement. They just wouldn’t want you to get it elsewhere, as advertisers won’t be aware of the unofficial download numbers.

There are significant advantages to any new revenue stream, though there could be some problems when something that’s currently a small subsidy becomes the primary rationale for an art form. Though it is kinda amusing to consider the possibilities for how writers and artists will put lickstick on the pig with stuff like Axe body spray’s upcoming comic.

The message being sent about various products will suddenly become a top priority. From a writing perspective, that will be rather restrictive, as characters and plots will be determined by new outside factors.

Consumer choices ultimately reveal a lot about character, even if this isn’t something that writers take advantage of very often. If a character would normally buy a generic brand, they’re now going to buy the advertiser’s brand, even if it’s not something the writer thinks they would do. This isn’t as significant when you’re creating new characters, but it can be a dilemma when using existing characters. We’re used to seeing superheroes praising Hostess snack cakes, but what if it’s suddenly canon?

There’s also an inherent conflict in creating something that’s meant to last, while marketing goals are often short-term. With comics and television, there could be a problem when references are dated, reflecting products and advertising strategies that no longer exist. Though many products are evergreen, and the big brands do stick around.

In fiction, most conflict comes down to characters wanting something and not getting with, while advertising is mostly about wish fulfillment, so it could be that these sides are diametrically opposed. Or the scenes requiring product malfunction could involve the competition. If Apple is paying for the show, the Grandmother’s PC can be a major source of frustration.

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About Thomas Mets

I’m a comic book fan, wannabe writer, politics buff and New Yorker. I don’t actually follow baseball. In the Estonian language, “Mets” simply means forest, or lousy sports team. Currently, I’m writing a few comic books about my grandparents’ experiences in Soviet Estonia for Grayhaven comics. You can email me at mistermets@gmail.com
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