my hump

I drive these brothers crazy,
I do it on the daily,
They treat me really nicely,
They buy me all these ices.
Dolce & Gabbana,
Fendi and NaDonna
Karan, they be sharin’
All their money got me wearin’ fly
Brother I ain’t askin,
They say they love my ass ‘n,
Seven Jeans, True Religion’s,
I say no, but they keep givin’
So I keep on takin’
And no I ain’t taken
We can keep on datin’
I keep on demonstrating!

from “My Hump” by the Black-Eyed Peas

First of all, how can you not read that without your heart soaring? And they say poetry is dead. Bah, I say! Anyone who can rhyme “nicely” and “ices” is Shakespeare reborn.

All joking aside, that’s a little bit of cultural snobbery on my part. It’s a catchy song if you haven’t ever heard it. I would be lying if I said I didn’t occasionally crank up Z100 when “Lean Back” or “Golddigger” plays. A lot of the music I like is hardly lyrical, either, although I’d argue that “Disintegration” by the Cure is a wee bit more thougtful and the phrasing a bit more lyrical. Then again “Friday I’m In Love” isn’t exactly Yeats reborn, either. But that’s not my point.

So what is the point of quoting Fergie, you may ask? I heard this song and suddenly wondered if the mentions of Dolce & Gabbana, Fendi and so on is just Fergie’s “shout-out” to brands she likes or whether it’s something more insidious – paid product placement? Product placement is simply paying for placing a product in some sort of media which is not, strictly speaking, an advertisement. Having ET eat Reese’s Pieces was product placement. Paying an athlete to keep a bottle of Gatorade near them at a press conference is product placement. It is getting more and more common, and I wonder if this song is simply another method.

This article from the Washington Post two years ago seems to predict this will happen:

[Promoter Tony] Rome hooks up rap stars, R&B singers and urban comedians with major corporations that want to reach their fans. The ideal relationship, says Rome, who founded Maven Strategies in 1996, would have an artist write a brand name into a song, feature the brand in a music video and partner with the brand in other promotions, getting paid by the brand’s owner along the way.

In a way, I don’t really mind this strategy.
I imagine some people would prefer to know if it’s a paid endorsement or not. I for example, am pretty obviously allowing Google Ads to show products on my site. If I worked the ads in as links to my posts, would that be unethical? If I told you how much I loved the book Your Money or Your Life, would it surprise you that I have an affiliate link to amazon to purchase it? If not, I doubt you would care much about the mention of True Religion jeans in a song about butts. Or at least, you shouldn’t – because it’s more or less the same thing.

In another way, though, I wonder about the monetization of our attention. Ads are omnipresent, and more and more you may not even realize what is being forced on you. A commercial is blatant. It almost screams “this is an attempt to persuade you.” That is understandable. A blog using referral links is understandable. But what happens – and this day is coming – when a doctor pushes Triflictotoripram as a good cure for heartburn, when he knows that actually drinking water instead of cola would be a better cure? Would it bother you then that the doctor got a referral fee to push Triflictotoripram? What if groups could put product placements in school textbooks? Or have jingles for Dora the Explorer piped into maternal delivery rooms? Where will it end?

Here are a few suggestions to fight the adplosion. Some are serious, some are tongue-in-cheek. I’ll leave it up to you to decide which is which.

  1. Turn off the TV. By turning it off, I mean throwing it out the window (make sure nobody is walking below the window first).
  2. Only listen to instrumental music. Even that’s not safe, though. Listening to Beethoven’s Fifth will probably just make you want to rush out and buy a copy of Saturday Night Fever.
  3. Never buy any clothes with any identifying logos.
  4. Extend this to everything in your life: pour sodas into a cup. Rip the dealer logo off your car. Look around your house and do a logo purge.
  5. Don’t watch any movies or read any books that mention any product by name. Narrows it down a bit, doesn’t it?
  6. Never look up while driving to avoid billboards.
  7. If you happen to find yourself on a bus or subway, bring a good non-product placement book and keep your nose buried in it to avoid all of the ads all over the bus.
  8. Only watch movies from the 1960s. The only product placement there is the refreshingly light Kool Nicomegatine cigarette, so they are OK.
  9. Pack up 5000 cans of garbanzo beans, get a 30/30 shotgun, and move to a cabin in the wilds of Montana.
  10. Stop reading any blog or website with any form of advertising (I think this eliminates every website except this one. By that, I mean, too. I can’t exempt myself 🙂
  11. Sit in your room and listen to the Cure.