Thursday, July 07, 2005

"She's the First Female Driver to Win the Nextel Cup!"

So Sean calls to my attention this New York Times piece about product placement in Herbie, as well as how related concerns surfaced in reviews. As a voracious reader of movie reviews and a voracious consumer of information about Herbie, I noticed this myself.

There is something to be said about all the product placement in the movie, as the numerous instances cited in the Times suggests. But what I’ve found is that critics tend to do a poor job of saying it. With certain critics, the moment they suspect they’ve spotted product placement, they freeze up entirely. So pleased are they to have shrewdly spotted commercialism run amok, commerce running roughshod over art, that they can scarcely be bothered to pay attention to anything else in the movie.

My take on critics addressing product placement in movies: Considering that the majority of these people completely missed the point of Josie and the Pussycats, which despite its faults remains the most elaborate and uncompromising satire of product placement to date, I think that most of them are unqualified to have an opinion. The number of critics who lambasted Josie for its absurd overuse of product placement, or those who claimed that Josie was trying to have its cake and eat it too, is astonishing. To do what Josie did using fake brands would have been pointless. It would have been too benign, an easy ha-ha for those thickheaded critics while easily dismissable for the viewer. Instead, the onslaught of real logos in ridiculous places is simultanously hilarious and palpably nauseating. You feel the genuine effects of the overdose, and the satire is visceral. Using actual logos do drive home the point was absolutely necessary, and according to the filmmakers, they were paid for none of it—in fact they had to beg for permission to use logos the way that they did.

On Herbie: Clearly this movie does not set out to address product placement in an ironic or savvy way, but merely to exploit it, so it’s different. In one respect, though, it is the same: There is no point complaining about product placement in the NASCAR scenes. Have these people ever heard of NASCAR? The entire point of these vehicles is to be giant billboards. Creating fake brands for the cars would be jarring, like those soda cans on TV that say “Cola,” not mention impractical, since the filmmakers would then be responsible for creating cars from scratch or digitally retouching every car on the track. Granted, the use of NASCAR itself is a tie-in, but as the Times points out, it’s a headache recreating a stock car race without their help, so why not use them and have the authenticity?

Goodyear: This placement I want to grant more leeway, since there is a precedent. The Goodyear logo appeared in Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo and Herbie Goes Bananas, before product placement was popular, which is the reason Goodyear is my favorite brand of tire even though I’ve never driven on them. So it’s only right that Goodyear should be in a Herbie movie again. On the other hand, the fact that this tie-in reportedly affected the actual story is troubling.

Tropicana: I didn’t even notice what brand of orange juice she was drinking, so whatever.

GM: The GTO and the Corvette came off pretty well in this movie. The GTO’s scene was cooler; Herbie let the Corvette win, so that’s meaningless. It’s silly that GM actually worries about these scenes. It’s clearly fantasy; everybody knows a real VW couldn’t beat those cars—that’s what makes it fun.

Volkswagen: The Touareg in question is referred to as “adorable,” but it’s not until a much later scene that we can tell it’s a VW (at least not without a finely tuned ability to recognize late-model VWs). I’m actually pretty surprised that VW isn’t involved. Contrary to what the article says, the name "Volkswagen" is used several times in the movie. It’s not about “selling an old car” as the quote in the article says. This movie cultivates a fondness for the brand and its image, while simultaneously including a couple of current models (the New Beetle and the Touareg) to remind viewers, “Hey, we’re still out there, and still fun.” Maybe VW didn’t pay for product placement because they knew in a Herbie movie they’d be getting it anyway.

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