Blog Post

Fox and Altoids Go Just a Bit Too Far With Product Placement in Brainstorm

[show=brainstormshow size=large]The Federal Trade Commission ruled this week that beginning Dec. 1, bloggers will have to begin disclosing sponsorships and coverage agreements in a more upfront fashion, or face serious fines. Part of me wishes that while the FTC was at it, they’d put together some guidelines for online video as well.

I mean, while secret virals abound, most of the time the product placement in online video is pretty clear and upfront, sponsors choosing to keep the public trust by making their involvement known up top. But there are levels and there are levels, and then there is Brainstorm, a Fox Mobile production being distributed by Dailymotion and sponsored up the wazoo by Altoids.

A branded series set in an advertising agency is so deliciously Mad Men I can barely stand it, though set as it is in the modern day, the smooth gents in suits are nonexistent, and in their place we get some blowjob jokes. This isn’t to say the package isn’t clever or well-written; there’s a snarky quality to the humor that makes you wish Jane Lynch was saying every line, and Todd Grinnell (the actor playing advertising hotshot Rock Shanz) looks a little like classic ’90s David Duchovny if you squint.

The second episode sets up the idea of confidence as being the key to selling something, and Brainstorm does not lack it. Of course, the second episode is also the one where we really start getting into the “oh, wow, Altoids are like awesome tingly flavor bombs!” stuff. Some of the phrasing is clever (an ad campaign structured around the idea of “Mouth Hobbits”?) but it’s still far more blatant than anything Mad Men ever did for Old Spice or Lucky Strike.

The tragedy is that if this were being written about a fictional product, it’d actually be pretty funny; it’s the veneer of “truthiness” that leaves our souls cringing. Watching this, you understand why the United Kingdom outlawed product placement outright, and why it’s a shame that they last month rolled back those restrictions. Because not only is a 3-minute infomercial in the guise of a comedy series disingenuous, the stuff people come up with when they can’t mention real products is much much funnier.