Geoffrey Fowler of The Wall Street Journal has a very interesting article [subscription required] about the intersection, or as he writes, "virtual merging" of advertising and entertainment in Asia. In the U.S., though product placement and promotion is tolerated (if frowned upon), in Asia it is seamlessly woven into the artistic medium:
One of the stars in the music video for the South Korean pop song "Anymotion" is bare-bellied teen idol Lee Hyo Lee. The other is a $600 Anycall cellphone sold by Samsung Electronics Co. In the video for the song, Ms. Lee dances with the phone and declares she can "watch anybody, sing any rhythm, show any people, call any number."
Samsung paid all the costs of making the song and the video -- and even hired the music producer and choreographer. "We hope the lyrics will remind people of Anycall when they hear the word 'any' several times," says Jong Hyun Kim, a manager at Samsung's ad agency, Cheil Communications. Samsung's Web site features a computer-generated Ms. Lee teaching teens the hip-jostling Anymotion dance.
Other examples listed in the article include Philippine dance hit "Hello Moto," a song commissioned by cellphone-maker Motorola, and "Go Ahead, Win Hearts," a theme song composed by Samsung's ad agency for the Samsung-sponsored historic India-Pakistan cricket match (the video received a lot of airplay on video stations).
The article explains that one of the driving forces behind Asian artists being agreeable to this form of blatant promotion is piracy. With illegal downloading of music, movies, etc., traditional business models are being thwarted and forcing artists to find new ways to both make it big and make a buck. Wang Leehom, a recording artist in China who in his "I'm Lovin' It" song sings "You know what I really, really like? McDonalds!," has this to say:
"There is so much piracy that it is just not happening with the record sales," [Wang Leehom] says. But success can be ensured if he has a hit song and McDonald's uses it in commercials on nationwide Chinese television. "When I want to give a concert tour, I am selling out stadiums," he explains.
We've all heard about the financial impact of piracy on intellectual property, but this is the first time that I've seen an example of how piracy is impacting the very integrity of that IP.
Of course, the merger of marketing and entertainment is impacting artistic integrity on this side of the Pacific as well. I recently heard a story on NPR about how the growing competition for advertising dollars is pushing product placement deeper and deeper into the artistic medium in which it is embedded. We've gone beyond the Coke can conspicuously placed on the table to developing actual scripts that extol the virtues of Coke. For example, part of the script of a "Life According to Jim" episode was developed to draw attention to the re-release of the movie E.T. Jim Belushi was apparently furious about the intrusion and refused to be part of that scene. Not every artist has Belushi's clout, however, and the other actors filled the void and plugged the movie.
Whether it's due to piracy or dwindling advertising dollars, society's inexorable march towards advertainment is accelerating.