Product placement is a widening practice. A NY Times article published recently talks about a new Spanish-speaking scripted series on ESPN Deportes, notable both for the fact that it is on ESPN and because it will be heavily integrated with products–something unusual for shows geared towards the Latin American market. However, what caught my attention in the article was the following excerpt:
Another benefit is “realism,” he [Juan Alfonso, vice president for international marketing and program development at ESPN International in Los Angeles] added, in that the appearances of actual brands “add authenticity” to the story about the young player, Chava, portrayed by Alfonso Herrera, an actor who was a member of a popular Mexican pop band, RBD.
The team for which Chava plays is fictitious, “but everything surrounding it is real,” Mr. Alfonso said, to build viewer interest in the tale of “big-time professional soccer in Mexico.”
“We didn’t want to have on a uniform the logo of a brand that doesn’t exist in Mexico,” he added. “It would kill the realism.”
Is “realism” a reasonable justification for product placement? Is it not possible to create a fully believable world without the use of recognizable brands? Has our reality become so inextricably permeated with brands that if we’re presented with a scenario devoid of them, we cannot connect with the characters or the story? This, to me, is what the producers are saying. To a certain extent I can buy into this premise, but it just seems so goddamn sad.
At some point in time we started calling a tissue a “Kleenex”, to search on the Internet “to Google something”, etc, etc. When corporations sink their teeth into the colloquial lexicon, that’s when we know there’s no turning back. Anyhow…my opinion is that Mr. Juan Alfonso drank the Kool-Aid (Oh man, I’m so clever) because his job depends on it. And that’s fine, but that doesn’t mean we should buy into it as well.