Remember Nancy and her “It’s a Grind” coffee in “Weeds” seasons one through three? It bothered me so much. (I did my homework in the Lakewood “It’s a Grind” coffee shop every day during high school. It had cool jazz music and seemed above something as banal as product placement.) The coup de gras was Nancy visiting the Mexican mafia to talk about heroin distribution with her iced Moroccan mint green tea. What a giant discrepancy! Hilarious but unbelievable. I think it bothered me so much because I knew that a brand was being shoved down my throat and it was supposed to be without my knowledge. I started noticing other things in the shows I watched, other moments during which product placement actually interrupted story lines and cheapened my beloved television.
Since the onset of DVR, Netflix, Hulu and pirating, commercials have become more and more irrelevant. My father even laughs maniacally when fast-forwarding through commercials during prerecorded football games. It’s as if he knows he is beating the system — kicking irritating advertising companies in the face as it were. But this is America and if we have learned anything from living here, it’s that advertising companies are infinitely smarter than we are. With the jingles and the jangles and the funny little Doritos commercials, advertisers enter our consciousness and manipulate our ability to choose freely.
The “Mad Men” are now sneakier than they have ever been. In 2007, the top 10 primetime television shows had 26,000 product placements. Did you notice 26,000 product placements? I didn’t. And the numbers are quadruple that in cable television. Force-feeding the masses name brands hurts the writers too. The more money a company pays, the more prominently a product is placed within the story. Anyone remember a “7th Heaven” episode pretty much entirely about Oreo cookies? If that doesn’t hurt a writer’s artistic integrity, my name is Susan Lucci.
The advertising industry has learned to circumvent the writers and their principles by looking to people who have absolutely no scruples. Have you guessed? Let me give you a hint. It made the title “celebutante” possible. If you still haven’t gotten it then for shame! Where have you been since the fated day the Dutch invaded our television screens with their satanic reality television nonsense? Really. Advertisers claim that reality television is their savior. In fact it’s a two way street. Advertisers paid the entertainment industry $7.6 billion for product placements last year alone. Most of this money went to shows like “American Idol” and “Extreme Home Makeover.” Bam. Millions.
So if most of our programming is essentially an extended commercial, what is the point? Why even bother? I say: because there are shows that have not lost sight of their purpose. Admittedly, most shows make an effort to lower the cost of production while trying to sign as many advertisers as possible. But it is this majority that lets the diamonds in the rough shine even brighter. Shows like “30 Rock” choose to do the necessary product placement cleverly and make it obvious in order to make fun of themselves and refrain from being deceitful. Yet another reason why Tina Fey is a boss.
As viewers, we cannot really avoid it or even really scorn a lot of it because product placement is much of the reason why there is still television. It is our responsibility, I feel, to be aware of what is influencing our desires. Or does self-awareness avail us nothing? Hmm. What I wouldn’t do for an “It’s a Grind.”