Column: Product placement has gone too far

 

I will never begrudge an honest man’s – or business’s – attempt to make money. The world turns on a dollar – as it should. Because businesses advertise to increase sales, I have never taken issue with television commercials, billboards, product placements, etc. The reason we have so many great Internet sites, magazines, newspapers and television networks to enjoy is that businesses are willing to advertise on them. The system works for me because I like variety. I have never complained about this. Until now.

For the first time in my life, I object to product placement. It happened last week while I was reading my July 2008 copy of Playboy. The first photo of Miss July Laura Croft (this link contains nude photos Croft, but not the ones used in the actual magazine) features her at a party on a yacht, wearing a bikini, holding a Corona while talking to a hunky blonde guy who also is holding a Corona. I don’t want to accuse Playboy of airbrushing its photos, but those are the most delicious Coronas I have ever seen. It’s not exactly the best-tasting beer in the world, but I kind of want one right now.

Advertising, you siren.

The opposite page features a shot of Croft from the chest up with no nudity. It is stunning and easily the best photo in the magazine. (Sorry, James Woods.)

Turn the page. There’s a half-page photo of Croft sprawled out all alone on the back of the yacht. Now I have questions. What happened to the party? Did Admiral Poon order everyone off the ship? How did Croft’s bikini end up beside her? Why is she holding her Corona like a Geisha serving a powerful Japanese businessman? Would the businessman demand a lime wedge in his Corona? Who left that full Corona grenade on the rail behind her? How did Corona beat Miller – a brewer that sends scores of hot women into bars to increase men’s awareness of light beer – to the pages of Playboy? Is Corona out-Millering Miller? When was the last time I thought this much about Corona? I wonder what Jimmy Buffett is doing right now.

On the bottom half of the page Croft has flipped over on her back. Her beer is now on the rail next to the full beer behind her so there are two Coronas in the background. At this point my eyes are only following the Coronas. How did they get there? Why would she walk her beer all the way across the boat when there is a drink holder two feet from her behind? What’s with all the grenades? Will I see those beers again?

I am not disappointed. There they are. The next page is a full shot of Croft kneeling with her bikini top in her hand. To her right are those same two unfinished Coronas, which are really starting to bother me because she and Admiral Poon have had plenty of time to drink them. Any sense of advertising subtlety – or pornographic reality – has been completely obliterated. I want to focus on the nudity, but all I can think about is how those Coronas were really shoehorned into this shoot.

Turn the page. Croft is no longer on the yacht. In a half-page shot she is bent over a breakfast table with her pajama bottoms pulled down and her chin in her palm. I know this is probably going to sound crazy, but it looks to me like she is thinking about Corona. The beer is not in the shot, but her face says, “I know it’s 8 AM and we should really be eating these sexy berries and drinking this sexy milk, but how about you grab me a Corona and we see where the morning takes us?” This is truly a breakthrough in product placement – product placement with no product.

Moving on. On the bottom half of the page Croft is doing things to herself on the breakfast table that were never intended by the breakfast table maker, unless Bob Guccione now manufactures breakfast tables. I glanced at the mirror next to my desk and – I am not kidding – the look on my face now says that I’m thinking about a Corona. The beer is not in my office, or on the page, but my face says, “I know I am supposed to be writing a column, but how about I grab a Corona from the fridge and see where the morning takes me?” The product placement is no longer subliminal. It is liminal.

(Above: I’m talking about the man in the mirror.)

The next page is a full-page shot of Croft leaning against a rock in a waterfall. The implication is clear. If you start your morning off with a Corona (not pictured) you will be in Hawaii that afternoon with a naked Playmate in a waterfall. Croft is wearing a yellow top that is soaked and falling off her body. In my mind she now looks like a delicious bottle of Corona. I either want to drink her or make sweet, sweet love to a six-pack. I have completely lost track of what sexually arouses me at this point.

Finally, I come to the centerfold. Croft is back on the boat, breasts exposed from her open wetsuit, no bottoms. She is dripping wet. There is no Corona in sight. Finally, some real porn that a real guy like me can enjoy. Then I look at the Playmate Data Sheet, which is always a must-read. When asked to list the five things she always has in her fridge, her first response is “beer.” I don’t think we have to guess what type of beer. We know it’s a certain light Mexican beer whose hop compounds degrade in the sunlight, which forces drinkers to mask the skunky odor with a wedge of lime.

The other four things that are always in her fridge are hummus, ranch dressing, hamster food and hot pickled okra. Looking back, I am glad that it was Corona that wound up in the shoot. I am not sure what the sight of bottle after bottle of hot pickled okra would have done to my now-fragile sexuality. Same for hamster food.

I realize Playboy needs revenue. The company, which is usually immune to financial tumult, lost money in the first quarter of 2008. My advice to Playboy is that – and I can’t believe I am about to write this – to succeed as an adult magazine it must maintain the integrity of its nudity. Everyday guys and lesbians don’t want to see Playmates with name-brand products people trust. That’s fine on “30 Rock.” I am never taken out of the moment when Liz Lemon drinks a Snapple. In Playboy, such a move does take you out of the moment. Hence, my newly-gnarled sexuality.

I think companies should be free to use product placement in any manner they desire. I object to product placement when it shatters the moment artistically.

All of which goes to show you the power of advertising – it even has the ability to distract men from breasts.

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