Cannes 07

A Letter From the Editor

By Published on .

Deep inside Xanadu, the estate of Charles Foster Kane, the newspaper tycoon gazes at a crystal ball containing a snowy winterscape. He is feeble, dying, and this is the last thing he sees, an image he wants to fix in his mind as eternity beckons. When the object slips from his hand and shatters on the floor, Kane expends his last breath on a mysterious word.

"Rosebudweiser. . ."

Hey, it could happen. Such alterations are but a trifle to people like Ted Turner. The TNT unit of his Turner Broadcasting System, part of AOL Time Warner, recently announced product placement deals that redefine the genre. Turner, incidentally, is the same fella who happily promoted the computer-colorization of the black-and-white classics in his film library, including Casablanca, A Night at the Opera, and The Postman Always Rings Twice (the 1946 version, with Lana Turner - no relation - and John Garfield).

Now Turner Broadcasting is taking the next step. Older programs on TNT, such as Law & Order reruns, will soon feature retroactive product placements. Next time you watch the show, don't be surprised if a can of Pepsi appears on Lenny Briscoe's desk where you'd spotted no branded beverage whatsoever the first time you saw that episode. Or maybe Claire Kincaid will suddenly sport a darling outfit with a nice big DKNY logo. Digital technologies now easily allow for such after-the-fact trickery. Clearly, innovation waits for no one - least of all for film- and TV-loving ninnies.

Take The New York Times ad reporter who editorialized that "this could be the start of the potential removal of another brick in the wall between sponsored and unsponsored content amid the increasing commercialization of the entertainment culture." (He's not too fond of punctuation either, but that's another story.) The guy is missing the point. C'mon people, just think of the possibilities! That boring blue sky that opens every epsiode of The Simpsons is begging for a little variety - say, a happy, multicolored Re/Max balloon. When Dragnet's Joe Friday tells a witness he wants "Just the facts, Ma'am," why not splice in an image of the latest Ricoh fax machine? Geddit? You just have to be a little creative. Like, you know how they're always driving around in little Jeeps on M*A*S*H? Hel-lo, Dearborn, Michigan? Find some TIFFs of a couple of eight-cylinder Cherokees! Then have your favorite post shop do a search-and-replace, and presto!

I'm not done yet. That Starfleet logo on the jerseys of Mr. Spock and his fellow crew members? A few digital nips and tucks, and what you've got is a beaut of a Nike swoosh. And remember how messy Oscar always is on The Odd Couple, driving Felix crazy? An Ikea wall unit such as the faux-beechwood Knoten, with maybe a few Sven storage bins thrown in, would really clean things up around the apartment.

But seriously - enough already. Product placement, never a completely wholesome part of the marketing communications business to begin with, crosses the line into unsavoriness if the placement is made apres la lettre (clever use of French phrase denotes cultured background and a large dollop of justified holier-than-thou-ness). Any advertiser clueless enough to sneakily manipulate the content of beloved TV programs or movies shall surely reap what he sows - namely, contempt. Television shows don't have to be high art to have a veritable army of fans, and why would you displease those aficionados just as you simultaneously want to sell them something? Just try to pull that swoosh job on Captain Kirk. Those Trekkies will get medieval on your dollar-lovin' ass faster than you can say "Rosebud," and I will look the other way and smile delightedly.

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