Productus Genericus -

Productus Genericus


malkOne of the touches that made the Supernatural sitcom parody (see below) better and sharper than most was the brief shot of the products inside the refrigerator: it was all generic products, with a ketchup bottle marked “Tomato Ketchup” and so on. Sitcoms are not the only shows that use generic products instead of real ones, but it seems like the most obvious examples are shows like The Big Bang Theory where characters drink from cans marked “Cola,” or Disney Channel type shows like Hannah Montana, where nobody is ever allowed to use anything real, play a real song, or basically pay for anything. (One of the great educational aspects of TV is what it teaches us about trademark law; the prop people on these shows know just how much they have to change a logo before they’re no longer infringing on a company’s trademark.) Other shows either try to have real products, or just shoot and light everything in such a way that labels are not clearly visible.

One thing to note about the generic products vs. real products issue is that it’s another example of how movies and TV use different rules. In movies, the question is usually not whether the movie will use real products, but how blatant and obvious the use will be; “product placement” is a pejorative term in movies and has been for a long time. But most TV is advertiser-supported, so the networks naturally want a show to be free of any references to products or brands that might conflict with the commercials (you don’t want to see the characters drinking one kind of beer, followed immediately by a commercial for another kind of beer). Seinfeld was one of several shows that helped to break the networks’ resistance to real cereals, real chocolate syrup (Bosco!) etc.

And there are some shows that simply could not work if they were not allowed to mention real stuff. Mad Men, which had its season finale tonight, needs to be able to show and mention real products from the early ’60s; the show couldn’t create an accurate sense of period otherwise, and it certainly couldn’t portray life in an ad agency. Of course there is probably a certain amount of product placement involved here, but the purpose is not to make extra money; they have to do it. But there are still plenty of shows where people are using products from, as The Simpsons once put it, “Panaphonic, Magnetbox and Sorny.”

While I’m on the subject of Mad Men, the season finale made it official: Matt Weiner has given himself a writing credit on twelve of the thirteen episodes in the third season. The first season had the fewest Weiner writing credits (there were six episodes he didn’t have his name on after “written by”), which, again, is a reversal of the usual pattern; normally the creator has the most credits in the first season, and fewer as the show goes on and he trusts his staff more.

Filed under:

Productus Genericus

  1. Is that like a cliffhanger leaving the post to end with a conjunction?

  2. Mmmmmmmmm……….Malk!

  3. I remember a bit on Conan O'Brian's old show, where he and Andy were sitting down to do something and they had some snacks layed out for them. Andy made a big show of pointing out that they were eating Fid___ _addle popcorn (aka Fiddle Faddle).

  4. I rmember in the movie Repo Man Emilio Estevez's parent's was stocked with cans generically labelled "Food." But that was more to underline the unreal nature of the suburban nightmare rahter than avoid trademark laws.

  5. My favorite example of weird product placement is from the movie "Win a Date with Tad Hamilton" (yes I saw it, and yes it was terrible.) Gary Cole's character has a conversation with Tad Hamilton while wearing a T-Shirt with the "Project Greenlight" logo on it. This has absolutely nothing to do with the scene and nobody in the movie mentions it, but the camera is framed so that "Project Greenlight" is always prominent. Who would wear a "Project Greenlight" T-shirt? Why is it in this movie?

    I still don't know what that was about.

  6. I think it’s a nice touch when shows use regional brands that fit their setting, like the boxes of Wegmans store brand cereal in top of the fridge in The Office, or the Vernors gingerale in Parks and Recreation. On Canadian tv, Oscar in Corner Gas wore what looked to be the $11.95 Venture shoes they sell at Zellers. There was also an episode of Da Vinci’s Inquest where they fished a body out of the ocean that was wearing them.
    Something else I noticed is that some brands seem to get the short end of the stick, like New Balance. In both The Wire and Prison Break, unlikable charactors are shown wearing NB shoes (the fabricating reporter and the double-crossing homeland security agent).

  7. Well, isn't this due to not wanting to pay companies to have their products in the shows?