And thanks to profound economic and technological transformations, audiences' ability to filter out advertising from their lives—via TiVo, satellite radio, national Do Not Call registries, spam filters, and the like—may one day result in all content becoming branded content.
Although branding in entertainment traces a long history well predating not just Wayne's World's tongue-in-cheek deployment or E.T.'s high-profile use of Reese's Pieces, such commercial collusion has exploded in recent decades. In 2009, it reached an all-time U.S. high of $25 billion in revenues after 35 years of consecutive growth and four years of double-digit growth, according to PQ Media, an analytics firm. Nielsen counted as many as 100,000 placement appearances in a single season of network programming. As the producer of Survivor once unsentimentally quipped: "[It] is as much a marketing vehicle it is a television show... My shows create an interest, and people will look at them, but the endgame here is selling the products in stores—a car, deodorant, running shoes. It's the future of television."
It's not only the future of television. Pop music, an industry whose revenue model has been battered in the past decade by digitalization, peer-to-peer networks, and illegal downloading, has begun experimenting with its own furtive form of corporate ventriloquism to the tune of $30 million for lyrical insertions. Since Run-DMC first rhapsodized about their sneakers in the 1980s, hip hop has, in particular, played an outsized role in this game: When Busta Ryhmes and P. Diddy dropped "Pass the Courvoisier," sales for the premium liquor jumped nearly 20 percent; McDonalds has reportedly tendered financial bounty to any rap star that weaves the Big Mac into rhymes; Jay-Z inked a "poetry-for-pagers" deal with Motorola; and Wrigley's commissioned Chris Brown's top-10 smash, "Forever" (with its chorus line nod to a 1980s Doublemint jingle).
As Lucian James, a marketing consultant whose "American Brandstand" index used to tabulate corporate mentions appearing on the Billboard charts, claims, "Using brands in lyrics is an incredibly poetic way to express yourself." Or as Scott Donaton, author of Madison & Vine, puts it, "Brands have become the new A & R department."
The notion that brands might usurp more and more of the "middleman" role once played by advertising agencies and media companies is dawning, perhaps most forebodingly, on the publishing industry, which, if you haven't heard, hasn't exactly had the best decade when it comes to financing newspapers, magazines, and books.
Author Fay Weldon controversially delivered The Bulgari Connection's title space as well as 34 mentions throughout to the Italian jeweler; Target plunked down its peppermint logo under the cover flap of The New Yorker as well as every nook and cranny of the ad well; elementary school math textbooks contain brand mentions to Gatorade, Oreo, and Nike; and ESPN.com pioneered what might be journalism's first in-column product placement running feature with Bill Simmons' "Miller Lite Great Call of the Week." Pom Presents The Pentagon Papers, anyone?