We'll be honest: product placement in music videos used to not irritate us–we giggled when the Foo Fighters parodied a Mentos commercial in their “Big Me” video back in the 90s–but that was when music videos premiered on MTV–not Vevo–and artists weren't cashing in on aggressive product placement endorsement deals with corporations like BMW and Virgin Mobile. Today's music video resembles an extended commercial set to music.
We have to ignore the fact that our favorite artists are selling their music videos to corporate America in order to maintain their 12,000 sq. ft Hollywood Hills homes. Being bombarded by an array of products in a music video is the price we pay for musicians to continue to provide entertainment for us. But wait, we also have to watch an ad before the video even loads?! Cha-ching! As if being distracted by in-your-face branding wasn't bad enough.
Yes, product placement allows bigger budget videos to be produced, but are they really necessary? Over-the-top music videos are a flash in the pan, while home-grown videos like OK Go's “Here It Goes Again”, which featured the band performing a choreographed dance routine on treadmills, leaves a lasting impression.
Flash back to 2010, when Lady Gaga's music video for “Telephone” aired as a nine-minute-plus bevy of product placement ads. In the video, Gaga's hair is wrapped in Diet Coke can curlers; an 'inmate' pulls a Virgin Mobile cell phone from her pocket; and visible endorsements of Polaroid, HP, Chanel, Miracle whip and Wonder Bread soon follow. Whose to say which endorsements were paid vs. unpaid, but we know Coca Cola sponsors Gaga's tours and Polaroid dubbed her their 'Creative Director'. Unfortunately, 38,000,000 Vevo views wasn't enough to save Hostess's Wonder Bread, but maybe Gaga can buy the company and add 'pseudo baker' to her laundry list of job titles.
Perhaps the company who made the biggest splash in music video advertising is Plenty of Fish. Three of the biggest pop stars show plentyoffish.com in their music videos: Lady Gaga (“Telephone”); Britney Spears (“Hold it Against Me”) and Ke$ha (“We R Who We R”). Plenty of Fish's ongoing partnership with Interscope Records explains the two former product placements, but not the latter, since Ke$ha is signed with RCA.
Which band does it right . . . ?
The Foo Fighters know what fans like when it comes to music videos: pseudo guerilla-style comedy that doesn't cost their own integrity to produce. They nailed it throughout the 90s, 2000s and again in 2011 when they produced and recorded their music video for “White Limo” on VHS. Motorhead's Lemmy Kilmister joined the Foos fun-loving antics and even Mrs. David Grohl (Jordyn Bloom) played a role in the video. The Foos never take themselves too seriously (Just watch their cheeky “Hot Buns” trailer for their Wasting Light tour) and after the Mentos, they've never put another product in front of us.
We can't blame corporations for wanting their share of tasty Vevo and Youtube residuals, but now even artists we respect are sneaking product placement into their music videos. In 2011, Gwen Stefani become the face of L'Oreal's Infallible Lipstick campaign (Good for our Orange County girl!), but was placing the product in No Doubt's highly-anticipated “Settle Down” music video necessary? Soon after the video debuted, fashion sites were buzzing with ways to 'get the look' with L'Oréal Paris Infallible Le Gloss in Red Fatale.
Whenever a camera is present, musicians and celebrities have to be conscious to remain faithful to their sponsors. Ronaldo de Assis Moreira, a Brazilian footballer, lost his $750,000 Coca Cola sponsorship by drinking a can of Pepsi at a press conference this past July. Ouch! (Maybe that's why Gwen had to apply some glo$$ on her signature red lips while driving a big rig).
Our message to artists is this: forget the big-budget vids. Respecting you as the creative being you are feels nicer in our tummies than having you feed us another heaping spoonful of product placement. Instead of trying to sell us with a flashy production, get creative. Embrace a smaller budget and you'll gain greater rewards (and respect from fans).
What do you think? Sound off in the comments below . . .