On the Placing of Product

Saw a piece the other day about the efforts ITV (Britain’s main non-BBC terrestrial TV network, for anyone who doesn’t know) are making to get our broadcasting rules changed so they can do product placement in their shows. I don’t mind a bit of subtle product placement in my movies, or even non-subtle stuff when it’s an accepted and loved tradition in a particular franchise – as the chap from ITV pointed out, a Bond movie wouldn’t be quite a Bond movie if you didn’t know precisely what make of car he was merrily thrashing around the streets of that European metropolis.

But product placement does bug me if it bounces me out of a movie’s narrative thread, i.e. whenever I consciously think: ‘Oh, look. They’re trying to sell me something.’ As it did, I regret to report, in Iron Man, when Tony Stark’s most fervent wish upon returning from his Afghan captivity was to get an American burger down his neck. And not just any American burger. Oh no. They make sure you know who makes – in the opinion of one mega-wealthy arms dealer at least – the best American burgers.

But then it occured to me: perhaps I’m just jealous. I’m bitter because books don’t offer quite the same scope for a lucrative sideline in product placement. Not fantasy, anyway. Quite aside for the pitifully small audience size compared to your average blockbuster movie, at first glance there’s a distinct shortage of brands that could fit into your average tale of sword-and-sorcery hi-jinks in an imagined world. Never one to trust a first glance, though, I could try, if there were any companies out there willing to fund my descent into tawdry commercialism.

There are a few mentions of apples and orchards in the trilogy. Who’s to say they couldn’t be apples of a breed that coincidentally shares a name with those appearing on our own supermarket shelves? This is fantasy, after all. I can call my apples anything I like. In Bloodheir, Lheanor mentions to Orisian that he plans to plant some trees. This, I now realise, is a missed opportunity. He could have been much more specific: ‘Apple trees, perhaps. Golden Delicious. Oh, how my beloved wife adores their sweet and crunchy charms.’

Or agricultural suppliers. I could have the invading host of the Black Road stumbling across an abandoned barn full of seedcorn bred by that famed farmer Monsanto, and falling into paroxysms of joy at their good fortune. Kanin: ‘It yields twice the crop of old-fashioned varieties, you know.’ Wain: ‘Really? I heard thrice.’

The payments involved might be individually modest, but they’d add up if I could cram enough in. Of course, in hindsight what I should have done was approach the whole story with a much more science fictional bent. A few inter-dimensional rifts or trans-temporal ruptures would have opened up a host of possibilities:

“The flickering rift spat out a lean, sleek iron carriage that dropped down onto the grass with a satisfyingly well-crafted thump. It rocked, for a moment, on its fat black, strangely grooved wheels, then settled into elegant repose, its sweeping form speaking eloquently of leashed power.

Orisian leaned close and brushed aside some of the inter-dimensional dust that had accumulated upon its glittering metallic skin.

‘What does this say?’ he murmured, squinting at the words he had undercovered. ‘Aston … Aston Martin.’ “

Works for me. If the price is right, of course.

NOTE: None of the above should be taken as my personal endorsement of any product or brand. As it happens, I feel Tony Stark could have made worse choices as far as burgers are concerned, but I’m not a particular advocate of Golden Delicious apples or Monsanto anything. I would, however, be simperingly grateful if any Aston Martin executive happens to read this and feels like offering me a free sample of their wares, in which unlikely event I can guarantee my endorsement would be unreserved and heartfelt to a frankly pathetic extent …

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