As a frequent Amazon.com user, I have been intrigued by the new Amazon Theater. I have seen two of the three available now; "Do Geese See God" and "Portrait". I need to see Geese again before I formulate my thoughts on it. Portrait, however, is ready.
Let me set the stage a little bit by saying while I do not watch much TV, I have been caught with the story line in American Dreams. Yes, I'll reveal my approximate age because I was draft eligible for Vietnam and by the luck of the draw, my number was the next to be called in my home state of RI when the war ended. So as fate would have it, I did not get to participate.
The recent American Dreams episode had JJ Pryor coming home from the war, conveniently for Christmas. The broadcast was with minimal commercial interruptions. This helped to build the story line, maintain continuity, tension, etc. It was a good thing. This evidently was made possible by Ford. There was an intro commercial I liked, a remake of Field of Dreams, featuring Steve McQueen (actually a look-alike) coming out of the cornfields to get behind the wheel of a Ford and drive on the new carved track. The last commercial was long, I thought a couple of minutes, reading the Ford press release it was actually five minutes. My daughter and I were at first wondering, is this a commercial, or part of the show? It was both. It paralleled the American Dreams story line, coming home from the war and showcased getting a car. Not just any car of course, it was a new Ford Mustang. I found it soapy and over the top.
Now, I want to be careful here. It was over the top because of the branded message, come home from war and get your Ford Mustang, like your father did. With all due respect, coming home is an emotional experience and something needed for all who are fighting any war, but I wonder how much a car really has to do with it. This is the aspect that concerns me. War is a cruel experience and to sugar coat it in this way, I reject.
My father came home from World War II and did not get his Mustang. The implication of history repeating itself is also disconcerting. Does that mean all fathers are going to come from home from war, and that all sons are going to imitate their fathers? I should hope not. That is not the kind of American future I look forward to.
The contrast with the marketing behind Portrait is what I want to reflect on. Portrait is a tale with a timeless moral. "In this comic Hollywood fable, an ugly duckling turns out to be as pretty as a picture. Minnie Driver stars as a narcissistic corporate honcho who learns a lesson--the hard way, of course--about the importance of what lies beneath."
The product placement within the tale is much more subtle. The characters are all dressed in style, use phones, carry hand bags, live their "normal life". Unless you stick to the end and see the credits roll, you would not think of the marketing connection. Yes, it is a free film within Amazon.com. Yes, the page setting does have other temptations, featured products, but you expect this. You come here to buy stuff. To find something free and uncluttered (inside the experience) with commercialization is the point I want to make.
So how do you like your marketing? Over the top with a heavy hammer? Or subtle?