Is this the cleverest ad ever or just a massive pain in the arse?


A couple of years ago, I worked on a campaign for Sony Mobile based around their sponsorship of the James Bond movie, Skyfall. The process was fascinating, we got some good work away (including this ad) and, along the way, I got exposed to very interesting details around how these kind of movie/brand tie-ups work. As anyone who’s seen Skyfall will attest, it’s one of those movies which are clearly part-funded by brands in exchange for prominent product placement. I enjoyed the film and, in my previous role as an advocate for Sony Mobile’s brilliant smartphones, the lingering shots of Daniel Craig staring at his Sony Xperia were a win…sort of.

I say ‘sort of’ because I’m not a lover of product placement. While I’m not sure how effective it is for brands I am sure that it fatally compromises the artistic integrity of any creative endeavour. For example, I’m a fan of House of Cards. Some absurd plot twists aside (Season 2, Episode 1 = jumped the shark), I really like it as a dark counterpart to The West Wing. However, I find the constant Apple product placement both distracting and infuriating. It was the same with The Wire – brilliant, game-changing show but utterly compromised by the long, lingering shots of Heineken logos every time McNulty had a beer or even went anywhere near a bar.

I’m well aware that the world is changing rapidly and that the relationship between creativity and money is in a state of flux. Everyone’s searching for the perfect paradigm. Between organisations like iTunes, Spotify, Google, Amazon and so on, who knows where we’ll end up. Just recently the ‘chief content officer’ of Netflix, Ted Sarandos, said “The goal is to become HBO faster than HBO can become us.” So it’s game on and, hopefully, while the platforms and producers fight it out, the artists and consumers can be the winners. However, at the same time, I’m not naïve and I understand that intelligent, challenging work needs financial backing to find its way to market. But I believe that, just like church and state, brand and creative end product should be kept fundamentally separate. Once you open the door and allow product in, every artistic decision in the creative work is open to question.

This thinking reminded me of the time at Saatchi London years ago,  when Lee Daley came in as the new CEO. Lee was a fascinating, charismatic, energetic bloke, bursting with new ideas for the way the industry could and should work. He was a big advocate of product placement and felt that, in a world of TiVo and other ad blocking technologies, traditional advertising could be on its way out soon to be replaced by the working of brand messages into entertainment. So ardent was his belief that a special branded content division was set up and creatives all over the agency were formed into groups tasked with coming up with product placement ideas for the various brands we worked on. Some interesting bits and pieces came out of it – most memorably the world’s first girl group available for hire by brands – but nothing that set the world alight.

Perhaps product placement can be intelligent ad powerful. Perhaps the movie Castaway resonated more with viewers by featuring FedEx rather than a fictionalised dispatch company. And perhaps the infamous Johnnie Walker Blue Label product placement (above), which was clearly written with genuine insight, generated a kudos and credibility that no telly ad ever could. But for me, the bottom line is that when I’m listening to/looking at/reading/watching a work of creativity, I want to soak up the creator’s vision. I don’t want the world that they’ve painstakingly created to have been influenced by anything other than creative considerations or to be polluted by elements outside of that vision. I want to get lost in their world and be seduced by their imagination, rather than pulled back to the cold hard world of commerce by a ridiculously overlong shot of a logo on a laptop.


About antmelder
Executive Creative Director at Host/Havas Sydney; passionate vegetarian; lover of books, boxing and Bruce Springsteen.

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