Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Product Placement: Nothing is Coincidence!

Have you ever noticed that Carrie from Sex and the City always dreamily writes her next journalist masterpiece from an Apple laptop?

Why Jack Bauer ALWAYS seem to leap into a Ford to save the world?

Does Dr. McDreamy ever drink anything besides Diet Coke?
Waaaaiiiitttt…does Shaq REALLY only have Muscle Milk and Vitamin Water in his fridge like we saw on Cribs?

As you may have guessed – these instances are no coincidence. They are perfect examples of a PR and marketing/advertising tool called product placement. Product placement describes a method in which branded goods or services (Apple laptops, Vitamin water, Gucci handbags) are placed in the public eye, generally in TV shows or motion pictures and recently also computer and video games, as a result of an economic exchange. Product placement occurs when the specific brand’s product or logo appears in a shot, or is mentioned by a character. The tricky thing, and effective thing, about product placement is that this process is obviously done without disclosure and is made (or attempted to made) to seem like a natural part of the scene or setting.

Basically, some big shot at Chanel calls up another big shot producer of Cashmere Mafia and says “We will pay you x amount to have Caitlin say ‘I LOVE my Chanel bag, you have to get one.” Then the terms would be negotiated, such as how many times the product would have to be mentioned or flashed on the screen in exchange for however much money is deemed appropriate.

When products are incorporated into the actual plot of a motion picture or a TV show, it is called brand integration. You better believe that costs the big bucks. For example, during one episode of Sex and the City, one of the main girls worked on an ad campaign for Absolut Vodka.

Earlier in this blog, I described how a comm professor of mine once likened the effects of the media on the average person to a fish in water: the images slide over to us and sink into us, without us really noticing. Product placement is a huge example of this – try watching your favorite TV show or movie, and see how many times you notice product placement.

Nothing is a coincidence!

Everything is paid for. Every beer your favorite bro orders, every cute top your favorite heroine buys, the speedy car your action hero chooses are all predetermined. Celebrity blogger Perez Hilton CONSTANTLY criticizes Lindsey Lohan for suspiciously always happening to carry around Activa, a stop-smoking aid. (Yep, also not a coincidence.)
Fellow Blogger Politiosauras Rex even pointed out the public likening of 2008 Presidential Candidate Barack Obama to a Mac computer in an article in the NY Times, showing perhaps an innocent beneficiary in Apple.

Product placement has found controversy over the years, especially with activist group Commercial Alert, whose motto is “Protecting communities from commercialism.” (Yeah, right.) Commercial Alert released a press release stating that they believe product placement is an “affront to basic honesty” because they are inherently deceptive to the average American. Commercial Alert has placed special emphasis on protecting children’s shows such as Hannah Montana and Mackenzie Blue, because they strongly advocate that children are more suseptible to the effects of product placement.

Really though?

Fighting product placement is a lost cause. Not only is it an absolute PR and marketing necessity in order to develop an established brand, it is also a big moneymaker for both parties involved. I really don’t see Jack Daniels taking the stance that they will stop being the drink of choice for the AMC show “Mad Men” because it “isn’t fair” to some ambiguous group of Americans.

What do you think?

Does product placement make you disgusted with the “Americanism” that flows through our media?

Or does it not bother you when you go to the grocery store that you probably chose Corona over Budwieser because you saw the characters on Heroes drinking it?

It’s alllll One. Big. Game.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Damn Shame You Can't Impeach an Owner

Let’s not sugarcoat it. James Dolan became owner of the Knicks because of his father, cable TV pioneer Charles Dolan’s fortune. Totally unqualified, unreasonable, tempestuous, moody and saddled with a past full of drug and alcohol abuse, Dolan paints no better picture than a spoiled kid who one day got tossed the keys to the most prized property in US sports.

In the world of sports PR, the chief concern of a PR professional is to maintain good relationships with the media. The point of creating lasting relationships with media members is to get them to write positive pieces about your team which will build you a positive, fan-friendly reputation.

PR 101.

James Dolan must have been hung over that day.

Think of the worst possible way to handle your PR. Now place that scenario in one of the most active journalist cities in the nation. You have now entered the nightmare of James Dolan’s Madison Square Garden media policy, known on the “inside” as “Tell Those Bastards Nothing,” bastards being the media, of course.

Dolan implemented the new media policy in 2001 – coincidentally, or…not, the Knicks’ last winning season. Dolan’s new institutional paranoia-fueled policy requires a PR staff member to take notes on every conversation that occurs between a player or coach and a member of the media, compile these notes into an email, and email the notes up the chain of command. Player and coach interviews are only done collectively and supervised by a PR professional. Essentially, the players and coaches are not allowed to speak with the media unless a PR representative is present at all times, which is unheard of in the sports world. Phone taps not out of the question.

Mike Vaccaro of the New York Post put it best during one Knicks game earlier this season:
“We have three people here tonight. “That’s 16 inches of copy and 16 inches of free space for the Knicks to sell their product, for better or for worse. To make those three stories as difficult as possible to write seems counterproductive to me.”

The Knicks treat the media “like shit” as an article in the New York Observer entitled “Life in Knicks Hell” put it. The beat writers, almost 16 total in New York versus 1 or 2 in most cities, moan and groan with tales of systematic repression – no access to the players, eavesdropping PR reps slithering in the shadows, lack of resources for game time, a media lounge with no couches or food.

Frank Isola is the beat writer for the Daily News and authors a blog entitled Knicks Knation. Isola claims that due to his harsh coverage of the Knicks he has been excluded from the media mailing list (press releases, game time, media appointments, etc.), had his phone calls and emails purposely ignored, and even believes Dolan has hired a security guard to follow him around MSG at all times. Excuse Isola for calling you out on being the worst owner of all time (Dolan was indeed elected Anti-Sportsman of the Year by the Daily News). Which you are. Every public relations professional knows that one of the main expectations in dealing with the media is that they are not there to be your cheerleader – they are there to report objectively what they see to the public.

James Dolan has forced the Knick organization to view the media as the enemy. And guess what Dolan? If you view the media as the enemy, you’re probably NOT GOING TO GET VERY GOOD PRESS. In fact, Sports Illustrated profiled Dolan’s personality last year – and the resulting article was pretty much about as anti-good press as you can get.

Dolan has taken this marquee franchise and in a matter of about ten years completely stripped the organization of any dignity whatsoever, in both the eyes of the media and the eyes of the public.

Being a PR representative often leaves you with the short end of the stick. Any credit goes to someone else. Anything goes wrong, you’re to blame. You are the slave to upper management. The public often thinks that the PR Director for sports teams is the ultimate authority, which is far from the truth. In reality, the PR representative is often forced to act like more of a mouthpiece for the management than he or she would care to – but that is part of the job description.

For example, Sports Illustrated writer Chris Mannix declares the VP of public relations for the Knicks, Jon Supranowitz is widely recognized to be a friendly helpful guy, as well as Nick Brown, the media relations director. Unfortunately, as Mannix affirms, these two talented PR experts do not have the final say, and therefore are slave to the regime of Dolan’s temper tantrums.

How are the PR employees supposed to promote the Knicks brand? What approach do you even take as a PR representative for the Knicks in attempting to pitch a story? Or plan a public interest event? Dolan has basically undermined every function of a PR employee, leaving them to be nothing more than his minions trying to protect the Knicks from the evil media.

Dolan is a fucking dictator, in every sense of the word, and his gross violation of every concept sacred to the PR world has gotten him exactly what he deserves: everyone hating his and his organization’s guts.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Obama : Youth :: Crack : Addict

He has notorious celebrity blogger Perez Hilton constantly “creaming his manties.” His Facebook support groups outnumber the population in Russia. Usher gives him free concert tickets, just hoping that he’ll show up. His college groupies follow him around state to state.

No, it’s not Kobe Bryant.

It’s the man himself – Barack Obama, 2008 Presidential candidate and certified charmer. OK, that may be taking things a bit far. But seriously, Obama has tapped into an unparalleled youth support for his campaign. He’s struck gold. Young, impressionable, 18-25 year old gold.

As everyone oohs and ahhs about youth involvement in this election, people fail to understand that it’s not the politics our youth is so energized about – it’s Obama. Obama swiftly captured the heart and soul of America’s youth with his scintillating, yet extremely vague and empty of content, proclamation of change and progression, as proven in his overwhelming youth vote support in the state caucuses, most notably Iowa, and most recently Missouri .

Obama’s PR team has now elevated the concept of political branding to a new level. Gone are the days when candidates were forced to be tied to ideologies, numbers, and sets of policies. This just in: HOT – appealing to the raw emotion of voters with your personality. NOT – focusing on the “boring” stuff – aka - the actual politics behind your message of change.

In fact, I can confidently say that Obama’s PR team took a deep breath and gave traditional campaign techniques the nice big middle finger. Until now, nobody has been willing to give into what really sells to the youth: sex. excitement. change. charisma. fun. Obama’s camp is the first to get out there and just admit “Yep, that’s right. I’m not going to bore you to death with the details of my healthcare plans or my environmental views. I’m going to make you love me, and we can discuss the details at a later date.”

What other age group is going to go crazy over that then the Hollywood obsessed, party going, active and innovative, just entering the “real” world 18-25yr olds? We just moved out! We want to form opinions! We want to be part of groups! We want to be in with the “in crowd!” Suddenly the “cool” thing to do is be part of the campaign, and we all want in.

The 18-25yr old age group, the most diverse and the most tolerant generation in history, came of age in a politically disillusioned time period. We lived through the impeachment of Bill Clinton. Our first election we really understood was the unforgivable nightmare of 2000. Our major political events were 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq. We haven’t believed in change. We’ve consistently lost hope in the American dream exponentially with each word Bush can’t pronounce.

Until, that is, our superhero of a presidential candidate breaks through the brick wall, booming and brimming with this “message.” This “message,” so invigorating, so inspiring, so trustworthy, with very little content behind it at all, has pushed our disillusioned generation to again believe that we have a shot at changing the world, like in the good old days.

Obama’s cool. He’s fresh. He’s somebody the boys want to go kick it with at the bar down the street. He’s the guy all the chicks think has that George Clooney “old guy” sex appeal.

Is it embarrassing when you call him out like that? Is it embarrassing to be the “sexy” candidate – the “young” candidate relying on your image and charm and not on the actual practice of bringing about this change? Sure, it’s not the most political thing ever. And sure, it sort of undermines our whole political realm, for the first time combining it with a mild Hollywood air. But luckily, it’s not a completely vapid crap shoot, not all the “kids” are out there tossing their bras at Obama – they have really stepped it up and shown their organization and skills like never before in an election.

Campuses all over the nation have thrown themselves into activism, creating rallies and informational sessions that kids aren’t just coming to for the free pizza. Interactive, social networking websites started by young Obama fans such as runobama.com, and the Facebook organizations that have reached an unparalleled growth are all inspiring college students and young adults to join in the movement. For the first time in our generation, we have a movement to be a part of!

Obama has made America’s young adults feel like he created the coolest fraternity in the country…and we’re all allowed to join (without any nasty hazing pranks).

Truthfully, the youth vote probably won’t be the deciding push to get Obama to the top. But Obama needs all the youth support and grassroots organization he can get – the prize is not in the actual votes of the youth, but the development to his charismatic brand. Eventually that hysterical excitement will push its way up into the age groups, maturing its way where it needs to, each age group bridging the way to the next. Obama needs to continue to campaign “young”, but organize “old,” with the ultimate objective being the older voters.

It’s all part of his master plan (or his brilliant PR director’s, I suppose).

The message and the details will come. But for once, a candidate has put his BRAND first.

And it’s working.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Oxycontin Killed My Friend

Don't do drugs. Don't drink too much. Don't allow yourself to slip into addictive habits. Don't let yourself get into peer pressure situations. Don't give into the college partying atmosphere. We trust you. We know we raised you right.

And then off you go, to college, no rules, no restrictions, no parents. And all they can do is hope for the best.

All of us have heard this advice, some starting from elementary or high school, and nearly all of us when entering college (and sure to be continued forever). How many times have we brushed off the "drugs and alcohol" and the "peer pressure" talks? How many times have you rolled your eyes when your mom explains that drugs ruin your life? How many DARE week assemblies did you skip out on in high school to hit the beach instead?

It just has to happen to you, someone you know, someone you used to know, and then you'll get it.

One of my close friends from high school, Kurt Allen Baker tragically died of an accidental drug overdose in San Diego at his fraternity house early last Sunday morning. Went to a party, got super wasted, and did some Oxycontin with his friends just to top off the night. Topped off the night all right. When his frat bros went into his room the next morning he was surrounded in black blood and vomit. They tried to resuscitate him, and he was transported to the nearby hospital, but died. From a combo of Oxycontin and vodka.

He literally partied to death.

Kurt's death hit us hard and fast. Shocked and dismayed. Confused and angry. Helpless and devastated. Just wondering what happened to the quiet but fun, good looking, girl catching, basketball playing, country loving kid that used to play basketball with me on Sundays and fight with me over the Kings and the Lakers.

His death has really got me thinking about drugs. I personally have truly never done a drug, mostly because I majorly feared my parents in high school, so it's really hard for me to understand why someone would want to alter their body in that way. So I decided to do some research on addictive habits, oxycontin, etc. I want to tell people about oxycontin so that they can share this information with other people, because apparently it is becoming a more and more common street drug, and I don't want anyone to go through what Kurt's family and friends are going through right now, much less what Kurt went through.

Oxycontin is a prescription pain reliever used to treat moderate to severe pain when around-the-clock analgesic is needed for an extended period of time. Abusers use it by taking off the coating that causes it to be time released which give them a sense of euphoria that is apparently similar to that of heroin (only you don't have to shoot it into your veins). When abused, oxycontin is proven to be highly addictive, increases drug tolerance (meaning you need more each time to result in the same effect on your body), and also has terrible withdrawal symptoms, probably discouraging a lot of kids to quit.

The statistics I found were absolutely shocking to me (since I don’t do drugs, I didn’t realize just how popular Oxycontin was becoming). The National Household Survey of Drug Abuse reported that over 1 million US residents over the age of 12 used Oxycontin for a non-medical purpose more than one time per year. The worst thing to read about was how Oxycontin is affecting the high school population. An article on npr.com reported that approximately 1 in every 12 US high school seniors now acknowledge at least having tried Oxycontin. In its annual survey of teen drug use, the National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that Oxycontin use by high school seniors is up 40 percent nationwide in just three years. Five times as many seniors report using Oxycontin than report using meth. The most telling thing I read was that prescription drugs are the second most used drugs among teens behind weed.

The prescription drug epidemic happening in America has got to be put to a stop. Prescription drugs, especially Oxycontin, are expensive on the street, and high school and college kids are using them as a “status symbol.” Although I have read a few different things on street prices, npr.com reports that Oxycontin is $80-$100 PER PILL. Stories of kids stealing from their parents and selling their possessions were rampant on the addiction website that I looked at, and the stories about the rich kids whose parents wrote them blank checks without question were more horrifying. The article I read quoted a teenager who switched from a public to a private school halfway through high school and noticeably saw the change in drug abuse: “ ‘All the popular kids -- that was the cool thing to do,’ Mike says. ‘It seemed like it was cool because it was so expensive, this big rich drug. And a lot of rich kids were doing it because the poor kids couldn't afford it.’ ”

With this prescription drug phenom on the rise around our age group, I just beg you guys that if you abuse prescription drugs or have friends that do to stop. I know you don’t want to hear it from me, you don’t want to be preached to, whatever your reason is…but it will kill you. It killed Kurt. It’s not a joke, and it’s not a game. It truly ruins lives. Just ask my ex boyfriend and best friend of Kurt, or Kurt’s little brother, or dad. Save yourself. Don’t be next. Don’t make your family and friends bury you.

Stop. Help somebody stop.

Read more about Kurt:
www.thedailyaztec.com/news/2008/02/27/City/Resident.Of.Sigma.Pi.Dies-3237155.shtml - 40k

Read more about Oxycontin, its affects and abuse: