20 Replies to “History of Product Placement”

  1. Lol, thanks for ruining my childhood memories, jackass šŸ™‚ . I remember I loooved (for reasons unknown) the flintstones growing up in the 1980s. First exposure may have been around New Year’s eve 1981/2 ish – apparently the censors behind the Iron Curtain didn’t think endangered anyone’s ideologicla purity, so I was able to religiously watch it all the way up to 3-4rd grade :).

    Anyhow, this makes me wonder: could the Flintstones ever be conceived as a show for adults??? Was it simply the novelty?

    I also recall Tom & Jerry, but there was also a pretty good Russian analog (w/ a wolf and a rabbit instead, and no product placement :), and seemingly more introspective characters:


  2. An awful relic of predatory capitalism, a significant find.
    How do those who made these ads feel about the millions who have died primarily from purchasing their addictive products?
    How many jobs involve a significant proportion of “lying for money?”
    There are numerous ways for people to deflect accusations, to seek common evasions, to deny ultimate complicity, and the money usually stays in the family and multiplies.

    One more item: One thing about this TCT website, though, unlike this one – The Center for Media and Democracy, founded by John Stauber – and unlike the greenwashing sites like grist.org and 350.org, is that you ACCEPT NO CORPORATE DONOR FUNDING.
    Thus, you do not have have to conform your posts and highlights to the indirect or direct corporate funders’ control and influence. No Rockefeller, no Ford, no Packard billions sifting into the next generation’s soon-to-be-dashed better-worldism hopeology.

  3. Well, even in its least offensive forms, advertising really is a terrible influence on journalism, as well as an ugly imposition on the reader. TCT will never accept advertising.

    As for The Flintstones, I grew up on it, too, Marla, but a decade before you. As a kid, I also had no idea it was, a decade before that, run as fare for the whole family, in weekday evening time slots.

    It was a spoof on The Honeymooners, the fame and popularity of which I’ve never understood. The few times I’ve watched it, I spent the half hour wishing Alice would pop a cap into Ralph.

  4. I don’t think inoffensive advertising can exist – even something as simple as putting “Delicious peaches” sign next to your roadside fruit stand instead of just “Peaches” already messes with perception and motivation.

    I personally feel handicapped after years of much more sophisticated forms of that – so much so that now, in the process of researching possible vacation options, i literally find myself unable to discern what to do/where to go, unless someone somewhere literally tells me that it is “good” – even if it is an anonymous review (which can be planted by the owners, for all we know). Obviously, any such messaging would be driven by sales competition, rather than by providing any universal, accessible, objective info allowing easier comparison of different options. In fact, I don’t even know if I’ve ever engaged with the world directly, or it has always been through a curtain of suggestions

  5. Marla, I concur. There really is no unoffensive form of advertising. Which is another way of saying that all advertising is lying. It’s also quite amazing to think, IMHO, how much of it is simple “do this” commands. Watch some TV and test that thesis. If you add some herbs, it might even be funny.

    There are three forms of collective human motivation/organization: tradition, command, choice. The only sane aim is to eliminate command.

  6. Yes – literally “commands”.
    What bugs me not just the general observation (it is enough to just turn on the TV to be literally yelled at to go do/buy something), but how deeply it has been internalized (by me personally, and the culture in general);
    which probably explains why businesses are so excited about blogs-based and social media based marketing – they enable suggestions and ‘commands’ to emanate from people who are much closer to the individual than the abstract advertiser. Let’s faced, when a friend of mine (or a blogger whose aesthetic I generally agree with) gushes “Oh, you should totally do/buy this”, I often listen šŸ™ .

  7. Bingo, Marla. The internet is two-way, by nature, while old-fashioned, over-the-air TV and radio were only one-way. The dual direction permits radically increased and improved surveillance, which in turn increases the effectiveness of the “campaigns.” I would go so far as to suggest that the history of the internet is little more than yet another extension of the marketing revolution. The technology was invented by the public/military, but, as soon as the idea reached corporate ears, they knew the future. For all we know, the marketers might have somehow been there even in the ARPANET days.

  8. I can think of one form of advertising which, I think, is neither lying nor deceptive. Locally (in the Czech Republic) one sees billboards and posters advertising local artistic events—theater, dance, and such. The posters/billboards feature pictures of the performers and the dates of the performances. I can’t see deception is involved. (Of course, I might have no interest in seeing a particular event, but that is another matter.) To be sure, this is a relatively low tech forn of advertising, but it still is advertising–isn’t it? (And when I lived in Bratislava, capital of the Czech Republic, there were similar posters and billboards.)

  9. It’s not just sponsorship, but more generally the intent to influence: it is one thing to simply provide factual information that such and such is happening/available, but it is very easy to cross into not merely informing, but also influencing. This is when “dance performance on the 18th, experiments in modern and traditional dance” becomes “THE WORLD FAMOUS MODERN BALLET IS IN TOWN! TICKETS ARE GOING FAST!!! THREE THUMBS UP!!!”

  10. Clearly even early capitalism was perfectly viable without advertising – I seriously doubt that for the first few centuries merchants or guilds have engaged in any form of marketing. Rather, once the ship docks, and the goods get to market, or the artisans unloaded their new batch in the store or on the plaza, chances are word of mouth or habit were sufficient for sellers and buyers to find each other.

    Only when production necessarily hypertrophies far beyond any reasonable level of “need” marketing appears and becomes indispensable.

  11. I am going to put some more elbow grease in this – of course there are some innocuous forms of advertising, but can we really be highlighting that when every other square inch of ostensibly public space in America is papered over in bought propaganda from the clean-coal, Coca-Cola, head-down cell-phone addicted US armed police military forces corporate sponsorship ownership apparatus?

  12. @ Marla: Well, I don’t think the adverts I was referring to contain that sort of hyperbole. Yet, they are adverts. Some of them may have some small sponsor logo’s. I may have missed that when I made my earlier comment. You are, of course, correct to point out that there’s nothing special about the arts that make them immune from abuse. That wasn’t the point I intended to make—I wasn’t making a point of principle, but an observation. And I do stand by my claim that most of the arts advertising I see locally isn’t so obscene as what you guys are reacting to. And, it is an interesting question why that is so—if it is true.

  13. Sorry, I just saw there’s another comment directed at me. (I think.) Martin says: Should we be highlighting less offensive advertising? Well, I don’t know about highlighting, but if there is a less offensive form, something more like a public information notice, then I think that’s worth noticing. (I don’t say highlighting.) Remember I am writing from a so-called post-Socialist (or formerly Communist) country, not the USA. So, I am talking about what goes on there/here. And if my observation is correct, and I haven’t done the research needed to show that, then it might be an interesting cultural/historical difference. And by saying that, I do not in any way take away from the bulk of what Michael has to say on this blog, or in his book. On the contrary. Here’s another way to frame my point: I had a friend from East Germany who held the view that the sort of advertising you hate is totally unnecessary. He said that the German Democratic Republic did perfectly well without the sort of advertising known in the West. Of course, I don’t want to take the old Socialist countries as a model in every respect, but it would be interesting to ask whether an absence of advertising hurt them. And if the lack of advertising did no damage in these formerly existing societies, then that’s an interesting point. Obviously this argument would need to be developed and I’m neither a historian nor have I got the linguistic/economic knowledge it would require. But I stick by my point that I was making an observation about an actually existing society, which doesn’t amount to apologizing for advertising.

  14. I wonder if it helps to think about the idea that advertising aims, above all, to increase market share. We are rightly annoyed by the cloying way it goes about it, and that is offensive. But, even if it did it in a totally aesthetic and unoffensive way (whatever that means) it would still be objectionable insofar as the goal was simply to increase the wealth of the already wealthy. I’m not sure the advertising I referred to actually does have the primary mission of increasing the profits of the rich. In part, I suspect that is because the sort of events I am describing take place in state theaters. But, I am serious about putting all of this as “maybe” and “possibly” and “might be” because I don’t speak the local languages fluently, and I could lack local cultural knowledge.

  15. I think there is some place in the world for advertising of the old, pre-capitalist kind. The test ought to be whether the information portrayed is offered as an authentic invitation, or as a manipulation. A band or an author asking people to come watch doesn’t bother me. A band or an author being used as a corporate money-harvester does.

    In any event, I also believe in free speech, so my view is that we have to build a world with dominant institutions that don’t require half their resources to be spent on fraud and manipulation. The answer to ads isn’t suppression. That never works.

  16. By the way, as some readers of the blog might get the wrong idea what I happen to think, I should point out that I’ve had my say about the negatives of advertising in an essay that might not be generally available outside of the university community. Here’s a link to a blog of mine. If you scroll down, you’ll find a link to an essay in a journal called “Think”, “Advertising; The Uninvited Guest”–and you’ll see in the acknowledgemnts that I acknowledge a debt to Michael’s work:

  17. Forgive me if I add one further comment. I can’t insist that people read my little essay, short though it is. So, please allow me to make my own general critique of the institution of advertising: What’s wrong with advertising? The answer can’t just be that it’s annoying. Nor is it merely that advertising is deceptive, or even lying. Advertising reflects the enormous inequality and lack of democracy in USA society, and in the world. But, on another level, there is a question of its content. It presents degrading, dumbed-down images of human happinessā€”and that is disrespectful. I want to acknowledge nearly universal desires for happiness and justiceā€”nearly universal because a desire for justice seems not shared by the most powerful among usā€”and I want to pay those desires the respect they deserve.

    People sometimes say advertising is creative or suggest the techniques of advertising are somehow admirable. I don’t think so. It isn’t fully creative because it is in service of too limited a goal. I want to put forward an admittedly controversial hypothesis which I cannot defend now: If we were to examine the emotions in advertising, we would find an absence of struggle, real struggle, in ignorance of our goal, and with genuine loss and suffering, but also happiness–we find no acknowledgement that (as Milan Kundera once wrote) we can experience happiness and sadness together, where sadness is the form, and happiness the content, where hapiness fills the space of sadness. Such complex emotions are verboten for the world of advertising. By the same token, certain movies and certain kinds of literature fail to acknowledge the dual nature of human existence: an enormously powerful desire for a better life, but equally limited means, so that both the individual and the social realm involve conflict and error. To depict that complex reality would conflict with the demand to increase market share. Advertisements do for emotions what political or religious propaganda do for the truth. Dogmas cage the truth, and restrict it. So advertising itself is a form of censorshipā€”of the emotions.

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