Reecooperation and Credibility: Product Placement, Irony, Generation X

Though most products are carefully placed within a film so that they do not seem to be overly commercializing the film, some product placements have become parodies of themselves. By being obvious about the placement, the movie and product create a kind of intimate relationship with the “knowledgeable” viewer who thinks himself above such advertising. Who may these viewers be? In the 1990’s numerous films made a point to use irony in the selling of goods to Generation X, a generation believed to be sophisticated and skeptical of big business. Bill Salzmann wrote an article in the March 1995 issue of Bad Subjects entitled “Reality Bites, So Buy a Big Gulp” in which he explained this phenomenon:

“The ad seems to be deconstructing the nature of advertising. After all it points to the ridiculousness of commodity fetishism by overtly stating the ideological message which most ads keep covertly hidden in images and associations”.

Two early 1990’s cult classics, Wayne’s World and Reality Bites, tap into this generation’s idealism and supposed rejection of commercialism. Both films center on the lives of twenty-something “indie” types trying hard not to sell out to the real world.

“Wayne’s World” is a film of two misfits with their own cable access show making it big. With the small fame and money they earn, their show is constantly being tweaked and commercialized on profit television. In a memorable scene, Wayne and Garth are reminded that they have an agreement with the station that allows for station supporters to be featured on the show. Wayne and Garth react with a “random” skit devoted to product placement and the world of endorsements. Verbally, they reject this type of commercialization, while sporting Reebok ware, drinking Pepsi, eating Doritos, and taking Nuprin for a headache. The scene’s use of irony exhibits what Michael Schudson in Advertising, the Uneasy Persuasion would describe as mockery serving as legitimation (104).

The protagonist of “Reality Bites” is an idealistic, independent documentary maker eager to show her stuff without selling out to an MTV-like channel. Early in the film, she identifies with 7-Eleven’s Big Gulp , proclaiming that it is all she needs. She gives a short speech on the merits of the Big Gulp, iconizing the drink, and creating associations for the viewer with Generation X. Scenes later, she is seen struggling with a decision to sell her documentary to the music station, expressing fear that she will be selling out to commercial TV, while sipping on a Big Gulp .

Both films, by mocking corporate America, allow for the product to be humbled. Such humbling increases the viewer’s sense of himself as someone who can see through the overdose of commercialism. The product thus is made more credible; as in the case of these two films, these products reach Generation X, a generation so against selling out or being had. Though mockery, the airtime given to the products still succeeds in exposing the viewer to the product.

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