Ironic Product Placement: the Most Inappropriate Use of the Word “Ironic”

October 17, 2010 at 9:36 am (pop culture, pop psychology, television) (, , , , , )

I read/watched this great post at Feminist Frequency about this new trend of intentional, over the top sexism that has popped up in TV and ads yet.  You know, the kind of ads that portray women as being ditzy sex bombs and men as being so douchey and sex-crazed that you can’t help but laugh.  Silly ad guys, we know you’re exaggerating!  We all know it’s on purpose, but that doesn’t make it any less sexist. The use of irony doesn’t distance them from doing it.

They call this retro sexism, and they define it as “Modern attitudes and behaviors that mimic or glorify sexist aspects of the past, often in an ironic way.”  Here, watch the whole vid.

But that’s not even what I want to talk about.  Because I see an equally heinous and equally “wink wink nudge nudge” situation going with product placement in TV shows.

It used to be that when a TV show strategically placed cans of soda or types of chips around the apartment set, or put a scene in a Burger King, we would roll our eyes and go “Ugh, gross, like we’re not going to notice that you’re doing this!  We’re too smart for this.”

The ad guys heard, because they used the greatest trick in the book on us: convincing us that we’re somehow in on the joke.  These days, they make it so obvious and open that product placement is happening that they literally break the fourth wall just to tell us how great a product is.  “Ok”, they’re saying, “We get that you don’t like it when we sneak it in, but what about if we do it while looking you full in the face?”

And somehow, that’s become ok.

Seinfeld used Junior Mints and JuJuFruits as major plot points, Curb Your Enthusiasm was constantly doing shows revolving around Larry’s Prius, and let’s not even get started on 30 Rock. This past week featured a Capital One ad during the show, and a lot of the blogs I read about the episode (which was great) talked about them “slamming” product placement with their “scathing use of anti-product placement”.  Um, what part of Alec Baldwin turning to the camera and saying “I love my Capital One card, I get double miles every time” was anti?  Just because they’re doing it out in the open doesn’t make it any less of an in-show advertisement.

Community did an entire episode about KFC this past week.  Again, another brilliant episode, and another brilliant product placement.  This one won my respect a bit more, I must say, because rather than just 30-Rock style commenting on how great the product was, like Senor Chang when the press shows up- “I’m trying to buy us some time with these Doublicious sandwiches, but they thought I was doing product integration for KFC.”- they just made the cast interact with someone else’s cheesy idea of product placement, a KFC-themed rocket built in the 80s.  The writers still had to work and figure out how to make this product placement a part of the world of the cast, and for that, I applaud them.

I’ve read since then that KFC actually sponsored last week’s episode, and Community is so brilliant that I don’t care what they have to do to keep it on the air.  Maybe if product placement is a reality we have to face, let’s not be lazy about it and just go straight to meta fourth wall breakage.  Since we all know it’s an obvious thing that’s happening, maybe let’s do like Community did, and ride that extra crispy rocket ship to the next dimension.

But let’s not call it “in your face anti-product placement”.  It’s just in your face.

About these ads


  1. Lets restore sanity said,

    I think this post, along with our radical nit-picking of candidates for both the right and the left side, needs to be brought down a notch or two from ridiculous touchy feeley to a more sane perspective of joking and “let’s just calm down a bit”.
    Vince Vaughn has been ridiculed for saying “Electric cars are gay” in a movie trailer for a comedy film. Now specific GLBT groups are angry and want the line removed from the trailer and the film. He is not willing to remove the line. Why should we be so PC to start telling other people what they can and can’t say, because we’re afraid it will hurt someone’s feelings. What happened to the 1st ammendment of free speech? I am a woman and I personally think those ads were funny. I knew they were being humorous, they were promoting a product, and they are NOT REAL. They are commercials – tv worlds based on scripts and actors, in tv land. They are meant to give the viewer a quick laugh and hopefully you’ll remember the product. If you think tv world is as REAL as REAL LIFE, then you have bigger problems than we can reference in this blog post. RESTORE SANITY and complain about REAL ISSUES – please.

  2. DumbDumb « Gynomite! said,

    [...] the 00s, product placement went from being a background annoyance on TV to the focus of the [...]

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