Beast Banner October 2007
ISSUE #120
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Features

ArrowThis BEAST in Science
Our guide to mind-boggling presidential illusions! You won't believe your eyes!

ArrowGhostbusters
Democrats cross streams in Turkey
Allan Uthman

ArrowYear of the Rat
A campaign 2008 diary
Matt Taibbi

ArrowAll About the Benjamin
Canada boots CodePink leader
Ian Murphy

ArrowDuh, Hillary is a Woman
The inevitable vadge in chief
A Monkey

ArrowCritical Massimo
A chat with Massimo Pigliucci, godless heathen

ArrowSo Sleazy an Ad Man can do It
The evolution of product placement
Steve Gordon

ArrowParty Poopers
Rehab for Grand Old Perverts
Rich Herschlag

ArrowSome Brief Thoughts on Abortion
Proffesor H. T. Muttonchops

ArrowInterview with Ron Hawkins
Lowest of the Low frontman is surprisingly un-stupid

BREAKING NEWS:

ArrowPastor John Hagee Launched on Iranian Nuclear Facility

ArrowBritney Spears' Mitochondria Descended from Bacteria

ArrowDan Jumbo Threatens Local Wildlife

Departments

ArrowThe Beast Page 5
Freaky Sci-fi Reality

ArrowKino Kwikees: Movie Trailer Reviews

ArrowActual Movie Review: The Darjeeling Limited
Matt Cale

ArrowBEAST-O-Scopes
Your completely accurate horoscope

[sic] - Letters

 

So Sleazy an Ad Man can do it
The evolution of primetime product placement
Steve Gordon

"No one ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public."
- HL Mencken

Advertainment

Prime time television hit a confounding new low this season with the debut of "Cavemen" on ABC, a comedy series based on the, ahem, popular "so easy a caveman can do it" advertising campaign for GEICO car insurance.

Sure, the series is funny. Kind of. Well, not really. Actually, it's really, really bad. Just terrible. Most of the humor is based on pop culture references that any asshole with an iPod and who's ever read either Wired or Paste can grasp. Think of the lame yuppie-with-an-existential-crisis bullshit you had to sit through in I Heart Huckabees, then picture the irksome Jason Schwartzman character choking out his stilted dialogue through face putty, and then put it to the insipid Garden State soundtrack. To top it off, any joke in the show can be responded to with an unenthusiastic, "Aha... 'cause they're cavemen... "

Even though "Cavemen" seems like a regular television show, it's really not much more than a stealth infomercial. No matter how distracting the storylines and jokes might be, viewers will never be able to shake the association with GEICO. And the gross thing is the fact that this probably doesn't matter to a lot of people.

The campaign itself, drafted by the infallible ad men at the Martin Agency, quickly escalated from being a commercial to being a hallowed cultural artifact, not unlike so many other wildly successful ads before it. Here's the thing, though: when we were laughing maliciously at the "I've fallen and I can't get up" lady, we didn't offer her a pilot. We just laughed; some of us bought whatever it was she was selling; most didn't. In the end, she dissolved quietly somewhere in the back of our psyche, alongside CGI M...Ms and the brain-on-drugs egg, only to be dragged out for the occasional joke when appropriate, like when Bob Dole fell off a stage in '96.

About a decade ago, an efflorescent age of heterogeneity and choice began to dawn on the privileged world. Thanks to Tivo and internet piracy, people started enjoying television on their own time, skipping the ads. Napster allowed everyone to get their music for free; blogs impaled the apparent sacrosanctity of mainstream news media; YouTube became the next-television-waiting-to-happen. Advertisers and top-down media hierarchies had no choice but to go stealth with their products and messages, inserting them into the collective unconscious in any way possible.

Somewhere in the late '90s, the 7-Up guy scored an inexplicable movie deal, marking the emergence of a new efficiency in advertising. Product placement in the media spiked in the ensuing years, with name brands etched subversively into our favorite films, programs, and even video games. There were even a few films, like Josie and the Pussycats and Fight Club, which surreptitiously placed products while ostensibly disparaging the practice itself. "Friends" plotted an entire episode around a piece of furniture from Pottery Barn. In this era of nearly obscene levels of consumer choice, the entertainment industry is returning to its original business model--dancing cigarettes.

Of course, the Invisible Hand is already putting a squeeze on "Cavemen" . A Reuters report pointed out that after two weeks, consumers had already given up on the half-baked premise, and that poor ratings are likely to ensure a swift cancellation. But come on, what did they expect? The next "M.A.S.H.?" Regardless, the writers and producers can still look forward to lucrative careers in advertising. After all, they got a product placed on prime time television without buying commercial time, or even mentioning the product.

And maybe that's what the whole thing was about. I mean, we knew this show would be canceled quickly when we first heard about it--maybe the producers did too. Maybe the whole point was that people would hear about it, be annoyed, tell their friends, talk about what a stupid idea it was, even write snotty essays about it(!), possibly watch it, celebrate it's swift demise--and all the while, they'd be thinking, at least peripherally, about GEICO.

When the consumers produce

Though the American public is generally retarded and easily spoon-fed the drabbest, least inspired shit imaginable, traditional media organizations find themselves fighting tooth-and-nail for their dwindling attention. And it's getting harder and harder. People don't need "MSM" news: They can read blogs, and author their own blog. They don't need major label recording artists: They can make their own CD and upload it to Myspace. They don't need TV to tell them what's entertaining: They can film their own podcast.

Of course, most people are either too busy or lazy to produce their own content, and many are too addicted to big budget production values to give up on TV. But these trends in consumer-empowerment lead to a major question: What happens when the public starts producing more media content than it consumes? Do media hierarchies and admen treat potential consumers with increased respect in order to keep their business? Or do they go lowbrow and lower brow to cater to the ADHD crisis? What do you think? I'm not sure how you go lower-brow than "Flavor of Love" or "Date my Mom," but I'm sure the cultural perverts at Viacom are busily working to break the retch barrier.

The mainstream news media has long since forsaken edifying content. Instead of racing for the scoop, you have outlets striving to present the sexiest anchor, the sexiest abductee, and the sexiest celebrity train wreck. Are our attention spans so shot that the only things television can offer us are sexed-up news or an extended 30-second spot about Neanderthals text-messaging each other? Are we being underestimated, or are we really this stupid?

It's hard to just blame the media for anomalies like the popularity of the GEICO caveman campaign. With the infectiousness of bottom-up, consumer-generated media comes a loss of shared artifacts. There are so many options and avenues of entertainment that we wind through them like a labyrinth, relying on word-of-mouth, viral spread rather than having the tube tell us which single thing to think about. Perhaps the "Cavemen" phenomenon is the result of our collective "I-Love-the-80s"-esque nostalgia for cultural artifacts that are held in common by the majority of society. Maybe we miss being told what The Cool was, and worshiping it together. This tendency would sure make the public look like an easier target market, like an amorphous entity that craves any trite or kitsch product as long as it can still be mass produced.

Another disturbing facet of the GEICO caveman's success is that the original series of commercial spots seemed to lampoon the anti-stereotyping efforts of minority groups. The cavemen are upset, because the "so easy a caveman can do it" slogan implies that they're stupid. They complain. On winds up on an O'Reilly-type political talk show, enduring further bigotry. In another spot, one is being criticized by his friends as a traitor to the cause for being a GEICO customer. It's mildly amusing, but the subtext seems tailored for people who are sick of these damn minority groups demanding special consideration. You can almost hear the lament: "First women and blacks, now Mexicans and gays; what's next, special rights for cavemen?" Ultimately, it's a joke about whiny liberals and the minorities they coddle.

An interview with Wikipedia

So, Wikipedia, tell me about the website created by GEICO to advertise their ad campaign.

"The site invites users to a hip penthouse party at the caveman's apartment. If users click 'Prep & Party,' they are transported to the 'crib' with the party not yet underway. Max (Jeff Phillips from the Airport spot), is none too pleased with the early arrival. Roommate Marty (John Lehr from the Therapy spot), is stressing over the arrival of Tina. Users may interact with the GEICO cavemen as well as their clothing, electronics, books, magazines and appliances."

No fucking shit, Wiki. Is there a downside to all this delectable advertainment?

" There have been problems for some people that visit the site. After the first loading page, you are given certain selections to click on for the site on the flash PDA. For some people, after clicking a selection, it just reverts to the first loading page and the PDA."

So yeah, so there you go. There's your answer. That's what happens when the public starts producing more media content than it consumes. You get dipshit, bottom-up websites about websites advertising drab television programming based on dipshit, top-down advertisement campaigns. So yeah, there you go. Now if you don't mind, I am dizzy and going to go puke straight up into their air.

Learning to love yourself

Earlier this month, the snide British rock band Radiohead laid some heavy-duty marketing LSD on the music industry's tongue when they released an album direct to fans and let them choose the price per download. According to The Chicago Tribune, the new album sold about 1.2 million copies in the first two days it was made available, with the average consumer choosing to shell out about eight bucks each. But you're not going to see the album chart at all, because the band put the record out sans major label and sans hard copy of the disc, effectively boycotting the RIAA's repressive stranglehold on the industry.

They treated their audience with respect and allowed individuals to decide what music is actually worth nowadays. Amazingly, it worked. People actually paid for the record, though they could have taken it for free. Now, other musicians have assumed this "anti-strategy," with groups like Jamiroquai and Nine Inch Nails announcing similar viral releases.

This is what the market looks like when it realistically responds to bottom-up demands. Right now, consumers have a massive say in how products will be made, promoted, and distributed. But while advertising companies and media outlets are going to be struggling to become compatible with the new consumer-driven viral market, they are still going to treat their consumers like idiots, because they know they have trained them to not respect themselves.

 

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