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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Lady Gaga's new music video for "Telephone" is raising product placement to a grotesque degree: Ten brands appear in the 9-minute video, including Virgin Mobile, Hewlett Packard, and Chevrolet. While that may be an extreme example, many artists are increasingly selling their image and songs to products. Some say these commercial deals are a vital revenue source. Others argue they're killing the art. It's our Soundcheck Smackdown debate.

Joining us is Tim Riley, journalist-in-residence at Emerson College, and author of several books on rock including Fever: How Rock 'n' roll Transformed Gender In America, and Maura Johnston, a music writer and blogger.


Maura Johnston and Tim Riley

Comments [42]

christopher from atlanta

A band like OK Go (who has gone independent) putting out videos distributed for FREE on line taking money so they can keep putting out creative videos for free to promote their next tour is only smart in my opinion.

I wish everyone who "hates" advertising could be taken by the Ghost of Consumers Past and see the real costs which would be passed through if not for sponsorships and the like.

Mar. 24 2010 11:16 AM
Rick Busciglio from Chester NJ

Please listen to a playback of today's Lady Gaga show. Fine topic...but...please you need to stop saying "you know" at the end of most sentences. Ms. Johnson was the worst offender. It turns good conversation into a painful experience. John you are supposed to be a professional.

PS: sponsored CD's have been around for a long time.

Mar. 23 2010 03:13 PM
tom from long island, ny

one more thing. these constant comments that consumers are sophisticated is naive and doesnt recognize how sheep-like the avg american consumer is. seeing a product placed and running out to buy it thinking they will be as cool as their heroes is not the sign of sophistication - but of a numbed mind.

as we saw all too well in the hip-hop fashion infection in our culture. the droopy pants was not a sophisticated purchase but a "I wanna be part of the club, no matter how stupid I look or how much it costs." attitude.

american consumers are not sophisticated at all, only the unsophisticated use that mantra. they majority are sheep who think they can buy their way to happiness and/or cool. (oh and be patriotic. ala Bush!)

Mar. 23 2010 03:11 PM
tom from long island, ny

read "No Logo" By Naomi Klein to get a better grasp on this creep of marketing into our lives. its not a good thing, there are no benefits to us at all. how long before our world is saturated with advertising? how long before our very homes become bill-boards of some sort, that our neighborhoods are "sponsored" by some corporation.

The rise of the Brand over content - as we see with these alleged artists like Gaga, is the deathknell to actual freedom of expression, artistic or political.

Mar. 23 2010 02:52 PM
Jake1972 from brooklyn

Tim Riley and his ideas are ... grumpy and bitter. I watched the Lady Gaga video when it came out, had a good laugh, and that was that. It isn't a great song, but it was a great video - great in an Avatar kind of way. Nice too look at. And when I went to look at the next day the second comment someone made about it was "and that Virgin Mobil plug!" Followed by much laughter. These videos are for kids - and they are a lot smarter than we give them credit for.
As for OK Go - I just watched it. It made tears come to my eyes - just because it is exciting to see something like that come off - can you imagine how excited all of the peopel who worked on the video were when it worked!?
I'll never buy either song or either album - but if I ever buy insurance I'll be sure to consider All State.

Mar. 23 2010 02:43 PM
Sam Joseph from Prospect Pond

I think its wonderful that we can qualify Wonder Bread as either being cool or not; what a consumer culture we live it. Fonzi was cool, if Wonder Bread can be anything other than food in our culture then brands in music videos is as culturally relavent as leather jackets and blue jeans in 50's rock.

Mar. 23 2010 02:41 PM

anybody that promotes any brand is a dumbf-- ridiculing is acceptable and wonderbread sucks except as a nickname for your sexual interest of two weeks

Mar. 23 2010 02:39 PM
adam hall from NYC

David Lynch on Product Placement:

Mar. 23 2010 02:39 PM
Brian from Lower Manhattan

To be a bit realistic, why should I care if an artist gets a contract with pepsi and agrees never to drink coke on camera? Also, if an artist wants to sell out, then that's their prerogative. If an artist doesn't want to sell out, then they won't. We probably just won't hear them as much. I don't see the difference between state farm and atlantic records.

Mar. 23 2010 02:38 PM
Serena from UWS

Does anyone understand what it means to be bought anymore?

Mar. 23 2010 02:35 PM
Evan from New York, NY

If I hear one more person raise free speech, I'm going to scream. The government isn't suppressing this. It's product placement. You sign a deal, you do what the patron wants.

Mar. 23 2010 02:34 PM
Adam from Brooklyn

Concert sponsorship or sponsorship of a museum show is not the same as product placement in a work of art. Why not give Michelangelo's David a trojan to help support the museum.

Mar. 23 2010 02:34 PM
Lori M from weehawken

I think the whole idea/concept of 'selling out' is becoming more and more obsolete. Unfortunately, we are living in a world where, increasingly, 'integrity' doesn't pay the bills.

and then there's the whole issue of artists having the right to make a living? artists still need food and shelter, and in this global, digital, changing world, how do we do this?

Mar. 23 2010 02:33 PM
Marcie Colleen from Jersey City

"telephone" has raised such controversy bringing about a lot of heated conversations on Fox News. Wondering if any backlash has hit these companies for taking part in it.

Mar. 23 2010 02:33 PM
Angela from Brooklyn

Honestly, I care if politicians take money - bands? - our economy runs on advertisement. It's unfortunate, but end of the world?

Mar. 23 2010 02:33 PM
rob from NJ

i guess that's why they call it POP music... just as Andy Warhol's pop art (while not exlicitly sponsored by Campbell Soups) exploited commercially popular brands & themes.

product placement, advertising, sponsorship, subsidies, etc. are all part of the SAME big pie in terms of financing a product... e.g., Plaza Hotel in a movie, Pepsi sponsoring the Jacksons on tour, Ray-Bans on the Men In Black movies, Smithsonian Museum & Mus. of American Natural History in the Night @ the Museum series.....

the point with Lady Gaga in this video is that it's over the top & more blatant than usual... it's not a YES or NO, but how bad and unrelated is the placement... not unlike the question in movies/plays/ads of is that nude scene or violent scene meant to increase sales or enhance the 'art'...?

Mar. 23 2010 02:31 PM
Serena from UWS

This program is a commercial. Why do you even call yourself pubic radio. Corporatocracy everywhere.

Mar. 23 2010 02:31 PM
Darrell from Astoria

Nothing about a near-dozen product placements in a Gaga video seems to be the slightest bit out of line with her artistic concept. Gaga has made a household name of herself by being weird, provocative and contrary, and the Telephone video is nothing short of a triumphant next episode in the saga: the song is a glorified opus of every American girl's dream of desirability, empowerment and chic. Why wouldn't the video be just as much a caricature of Americanism?

Mar. 23 2010 02:30 PM
Mike C. from Tribeca

Judging by the snippets of music you've been playing, these unoriginal and derivative songs sound more like product placements for The Bangles, The Go-Go's, and others that came out decades ago.

Also, when did people start calling "recording artists" artists?

Mar. 23 2010 02:29 PM
JP from NJ

Product placement or not, this woman scares me…. For that, I don’t think she could sell me a ham sandwich let alone anything else…

Mar. 23 2010 02:28 PM
Girish from NYC

Well the question is why do Products need to do this? They get associated with the community who listen to that music, they get publicity and overall they helping the music industry.

Mar. 23 2010 02:28 PM
Tanya from Brooklyn

Bigger is not always better.

Mar. 23 2010 02:28 PM
Tanya from Brooklyn

For Lady Gaga, she could potentially make a brilliant artistic video with half the money if she had an artist vision for it ... without the money of corporations/product placement.

Mar. 23 2010 02:27 PM
CES from Brooklyn

Maura's argument comparing the influence of a Universal executive to a corporate sponsor is nonsensical; the exec is promoting the product - the song - whereas the corporation is promoting an entirely different product, like... insurance,

Mar. 23 2010 02:27 PM
Jeremy Shatan from NYC

Since you mention hip hop, can you imagine a video for "Pass The Courvoisier" without Courvoisier?

Mar. 23 2010 02:23 PM
Stephen from Manhattan

Ugh. Must we really be marketed to 24/7? Isn't it bad enough that the rights to classic songs and recordings have been sold to sell us crap? I can no longer listen to Bill Wither's "Lean on Me" now without thinking of paper towels. And did the Rolling Stones really need the cash when they licensed "Start Me Up" to the evil empire of Microsoft?

Mar. 23 2010 02:22 PM
m from NJ

I think Maura Johnston is going to cover what I'm about to say but I think Tim Riley's wrong about OK Go... you can dig up the clip of the lead singer (I think) talking to Robert Siegel on ATC last week or the week before, and he discusses the involvement of the record company and the sponsor. Interesting in itself, but what I remember was that he said there was no way they could have funded the video with traditional sources, I suppose the label? I think Mr Riley's got some good ideas but is maybe a little too optimistic about artists being completely decoupled from the commercial world.

Mar. 23 2010 02:21 PM
Robots Need To Party from NYC

I would argue sponsorship and product placement are separate things. Product placement is in your face (usually). Sponsorship seems benevolent. Is it though?

Mar. 23 2010 02:20 PM
Ted In Atlanta from Design Department

Also, there have always been high-dollar art patrons, not demanding all the art contain images of or references to themselves, no? The OK-GO video is incredible and I'm happy that it was do-able thanks to someone. But like Perri (1) i wouldn't necessarily buy the sponsor's product.

Mar. 23 2010 02:20 PM
Serena from UWS

Neil Young said it:
"This Note's For You"

Don't want no cash
Don't need no money
Ain't got no stash
This note's for you.

Ain't singin' for Pepsi
Ain't singin' for Coke
I don't sing for nobody
Makes me look like a joke
This note's for you.

Ain't singin' for Miller
Don't sing for Bud
I won't sing for politicians
Ain't singin' for Spuds
This note's for you.

Don't need no cash
Don't want no money
Ain't got no stash
This note's for you.

I've got the real thing
I got the real thing, baby
I got the real thing
Yeah, alright

Mar. 23 2010 02:20 PM
Edward from NJ

The OK Go video is a throwback to the early days of TV and radio where single sponsors presented whole programs. I would expect more and more web content to go this route.

Mar. 23 2010 02:19 PM
Edward from NJ

The placements in "Telephone" are likely both real and ironic. It's funny to namecheck Wonder bread because "what could be less cool than Wonder bread?" By sanctioning it, Wonder bread becomes cooler. It's totally meta.

Mar. 23 2010 02:17 PM
Bruce Merchant from 07438

Great show, but driven to tune out after five minutes because all I heard your female guest say was: you know, I mean, like... etc. She was unable to string a sentence together without inserting these words. Became every annoying.

Mar. 23 2010 02:16 PM
Ted In Atlanta from Design Department

This is the natural outcome of all the "free" music though, isn't it? So absolutely ditch the sponsors and pay for the music, lest the few remaining stars' entire existence will become like a NASCAR chassis of branded logos, icons and product placements.

Mar. 23 2010 02:15 PM
Adam from Brooklyn

Of course product placement interferes with artistic merit. If the point is to place a product you are making a choice within the limited space of your work to focus on a coke or a loaf of bread so you can make extra money. I find it funny how those call themselves pop artists always manage to rationalize the "artistic" choice that makes them richer.

Mar. 23 2010 02:15 PM

Since the common goal in pop music is to reach mediocrity who is shocked by this. It's sad and it's only in the USA. The music scene in Britain is far superior. Lady Ga Ga should have been sponsored by Depends because she is full of YOU KNOW

Mar. 23 2010 02:14 PM
Betty Anne from UES

The video is pretty cool but what does it have to do with the song? It's so unrelated.

Mar. 23 2010 02:12 PM

On the other hand, Bob Dylan doing Victoria's Secret ads, now that was a problem.

Mar. 23 2010 02:12 PM

Meh. This music awful and banal anyway. It's not going to exactly taint great art by having a commercial message stuck inside of it.

Mar. 23 2010 02:11 PM
Robots Need To Party from NYC

Sique Sique Sputnik was way ahead of the curve with this one by selling ads between the tracks on their album Flaunt It. At the time I thought it was genius, that was art, at this time its just annoying.

Music videos themselves are advertisments, inserting more advertising into them may make some financial sense but it really is distancing the artist from their audience.

There is some artistic merit to the Telephone video but all the ad placement is a distraction and not integrated in a successful ironic way. It could have been a seamless integration but it failed. When a video that is made to have product placement can't do it successfully how could any video hope to do this without being annoying. The Pop Art attempt was just that, an attempt.

Mar. 23 2010 02:10 PM

Ironic, considering how 40 years ago, a nervous record company legal department made Ray Davies of the Kinks re-record a line in "Lola", changing the words "Coca-cola" to cherry cola, in fear of a possible lawsuit. Nowadays, Coke would love having a gratuitous mention in a song.

Mar. 23 2010 02:06 PM

I bought The Heavy's "How You Like Me Now" after hearing it in that quirky Kia Sorento commercial with the toys that come alive. I love it! However, I have no desire to purchase a Sorento.

Which makes me wonder who really comes out on top, the artists or brand?

Mar. 23 2010 10:30 AM

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