Off-the-wallBy Bob Spiwak

About 50 years ago Vance Packard published a book titled The Hidden Persuaders. It had to do with messages being sent via visual media like TV and movie theaters, or audible messages by radio. While any kind of message could be delivered, the thrust was on commercials. These messages came and went so fast that while the brain could assimilate them, the receiving person was not consciously aware they existed.

For example, watching a movie like Lawrence of Arabia, the word “Coke” might flash across the screen and induce a thirst, encouraging the recipient to head for the theater’s refreshment stand. This means of advertising could expand to the selling of any product.

I don’t know if this was ever put into wide usage, but the idea has morphed over the decades into a different means of sending the message to buy or try a product in a somewhat different, subtle format. This is called “product placement.” When a saleable thing appears in movies or television shows in a situation where the conscious brain hardly registers the image, it still can lodge in the skull like cerebral duct tape.

For having such a thing included, producers of what is being watched or listened to pay a price. This is why in some print media, any commercial names of specific products, places or things are verboten. If the word is generic, such as spandex, it’s OK. But to add that I wore Oakley goggles over my Lycra cap would be in very bad taste, unless there had been an arrangement where Oakley paid the publisher (or writer) for inclusion.

If you watch The Weather Channel, the people in the field are usually wearing a jacket with the program’s name embroidered on the left breast. On the right side is the trademark of L.L. Bean. I have concluded that the announcers usually hold the microphone in the right hand, arm below the logo leaving the left side appendage free to gesticulate, point and otherwise cover the program name while the Bean logo is readable above the stationary right arm.

There was a movie called Valentine’s Day in which, according to Google, 55 placements were paid for. They ranged from a Volkswagen Beetle to Indiana University. In Raiders of the Lost Ark, which we re-watched last week, there is a bottle of Myer’s Rum briefly but prominently displayed on a table in the bar scene. That moment cost Seagram’s, the rum’s parent corporation, $50,000. A lot cheaper than conventional advertising, even if the name was not used.

With our relatively snowless winter here in the Methow, I think it is time for our merchants to lure people to the valley regardless of the weather. If the chambers of commerce of our towns could agree on a plan and drum up a few bucks, maybe through some cougar research grant money, and hire a placement specialist, there could be a surge of new business. Think of it — a desert-based movie during which viewers see a flash or several of a Methow River scene, green and bucolic with happy people on a beach. Or another quick spot elsewhere in the same flick could show a happy couple having a drink of chilled white wine, in candlelight. Maybe even a lost river in the scene.

Come to the Methow, it is calling.

It might be worth a try.