Exploring New Frontiers of Product Placement

Corporations have done some strange things to position their products everywhere we look. They’ve plastered ads on sides of buses; covered the floors and even escalator rails of metro stations; and bought the naming rights to stadiums and even a town, like in DISH, Texas, which sold itself to the DISH satellite TV company for free satellite TV.

Saw this ad in a Tokyo Subway Station back in 2003

Saw this ad in a Tokyo Subway Station back in 2003

But here’s a new one: according to The New York Times, Unilever’s deodorant division, Axe, is paying street musicians and college bands to advertise its brand Axe Instinct, both by displaying a sign and by singing the brand’s jingle.

On the one hand, it’s pretty clever: they bought these musicians’ loyalty for three months for just a thousand bucks each (chump change in the corporate world), and the street musicians, at least, play to a captive audience. You can’t avoid them if you commute to work, whether you want to or not.

On the other hand, why would this company want to associate their product with street musicians? According to the director of Slumdog Millionaire, Danny Boyle, Coca-cola made him edit out its brand on the bottle of soda that young Jamal Malik and his brother shared in a garbage dump because of concerns over a negative association. Wouldn’t this be similar?

I guess not. As Jay E. Mathew Jr., marketing director for deodorants at Unilever USA told The New York Times, “Our biggest thing is not about what they look like but the authenticity of them. We want people that, this is what they do every day.”

You’ve got advertising in public spaces, schools, on movie tickets, covering the paper on doctors’ examining tables, even temporarily tattooed on their faces (and possibly even permanently–check out this YouTube video from Estonia).

Ad for Feelunique.com. You'll definitely feel unique with ads on your eyelids, but is this really the look you were going for?

Ad for Feelunique.com. I'm sure you'd feel unique with ads on your eyelids, but was this really the look you were going for?

What’s next? How about product-sponsored dormitories? The Budweiser dorm would be a natural (for seniors only of course). Mini-fridges in each room filled with Bud, walls covered with posters of beautiful women wearing Budweiser bathing suits, Bud glasses and other Bud products on the shelves. And Bud on tap in the common room. And of course “Bud Light” will illuminate the halls and rooms, with each fluorescent bulb labeled as such. As much as this idea was meant as a joke, if it doesn’t already exist, I’m afraid I just opened Pandora’s box—or perhaps more accurately Bud’s tap.

Really, the Budweiser Dorm is not such a stretch when compared to Coca-Cola and Pepsi infiltrating public schools, plastering their ads on the walls, sponsoring team uniforms, and selling their products in vending machines. And let’s not forget making school districts dependent on soda sales to make ends meet. According to a study by scientists at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly two thirds of U.S. school districts earn a percentage of the revenue from vending machine sales, and a third receive financial awards from soda companies when a certain amount of their product is sold. Really, it’s a pretty small step from there to colleges earning revenue selling beer.

And besides, which is worse: addicting children that don’t know any better to caffeine and huge amounts of refined sugar, or addicting full grown adults to alcohol, barley and hops? At least the college students are theoretically old enough to decide for themselves, and can thus choose to avoid those universities that prostitute themselves, while kids attending public schools clearly don’t have that choice.

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