By Neal Moore, Co-Founder and CEO
Last weekend I went with my wife to see Jurassic World hoping to recapture some of the magic I experienced when I saw the original as a 14 year old in 1993 (which I still think of as 15 years ago). The film was a great spectacle and, despite the gaping plot holes (they can invent a new dinosaur but they can’t sort out decent phone reception at Jurassic World?!), we both enjoyed it…except for one, teensy-weensy little thing.
About twelve minutes into the film Jurassic World’s head of operations Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas-Howard) announces she has just closed a deal with Verizon Wireless to sponsor new dinosaur Indominous Rex. Geek-with-feelings Lowery Cruthers (Jake Johnson) takes offence at this and sarcastically suggests: “Why not just go the distance Claire and let these corporations name the dinosaurs, they’ve got all the ballparks, why stop there?”. This is all deeply ironic seeing as the scene comes straight on the back of a sequence of shots brought you entirely by Samsung. So why are they laying into brands?
Popular culture has long maintained that corporations are bad and individuals are good, as though the two are mutually exclusive (who do you think works in these corporations?). It’s a narrative many of us buy into because it positions “us” as both the good guys and the underdogs and we all love an underdog story. To some extent, all stories are underdog stories; even Superman is presented as alienated and alone before finding his purpose as a superhero. But the fact is this film, which provided me with two hours of eye-popping entertainment, couldn’t have been made without the input of Samsung and Mercedes (whose vehicles arrive logo first into every shot!). Slagging them off at the start of the film really is biting the hand that feeds and it’s not necessary because the brands aren’t the bad guys here – that’s the Indominous Rex.
Without brands much of the entertainment we enjoy simply wouldn’t exist; music festivals, sporting events and art exhibitions all depend on advertising and sponsorship to survive and pay the musicians, athletes and artists that are apparently more worthy of our admiration. So why do we perpetuate this narrative that brands are the bad guys? I think maybe it’s to keep them in check, for there are plenty of examples of brands overstepping the mark and when they do they fuck it up for themselves as well as everyone else, generally by insisting on bigger logos and more product shots. Anyone who saw Stanley Tucci’s character stop for a refreshing gulp of Yili brand milk before getting on with the business of fighting a Transformer knows what I’m talking about!
It’s true, brands can fuck things up with inappropriate product placement amongst other crimes and when they do we should go after them mercilessly because, if they’ve partnered with the right artist or event, there’s simply no need for it. When brand and artist/event are aligned everyone there will get it. For them to work together successfully, each must respect the other’s role. The brand is the enabler, the benefit to them is the alignment to an artist or event that shares their values and reaches their target audience as well as the stories they can tell about working together, it’s not really about hero shots and logos. For the artist/event, it’s about the opportunity to scale up and reach larger audiences WITHOUT compromising their integrity.
Of course, if you really don’t like brands being involved with art, events and content you CAN change it. Just start paying for your news, your music and movies again and that will subsidise everything, but I can’t see that happening, so in the meantime let’s tone down the brand-slamming and see how we can harness their power to create better art and experiences for everyone.