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The New New Native Advertising: The Internship Crosses the Creepy Line

June 9, 2013

For those of you following the summer movie releases, poor Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson are starring in the career-ending “The Internship,” something of a sequel to “The Wedding Crashers” which happened to be released the same weekend as Google’s very creepy connections to the National Security Agency became global news.

Oops.

In one of those hysterically funny juxtapositions that only happen in the trade press, the Hollywood Reporter tells us that the picture bombed, but also has a related and unintentionally ridiculous sidebar news story:

Box Office Shocker: Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson’s Google comedy “The Internship” opens to a disappointing $18.1 million, the lowest debut for a Shawn Levy film in a decade.

STORY: Google Unveils Model to Predict Box Office Success [is it a joint venture with the NSA?]

Yes, do you know how many people have floated a way to “predict box office success” since the flickering dawn of Hollywood?  One word:

Ishtar.

I’m still looking for a positive review of “The Internship” but this one from Manohla Dargis is pretty representative:

It may also be that Mr. Vaughn’s interest in libertarianism (he spoke in support of Ron Paul during the last presidential campaign) dovetailed with the cyber-libertarianism that’s popular in Silicon Valley. Whatever Mr. Vaughn’s motivations, with “The Internship” he has charted possibly new, definitely uneasy terrain by helping create a big-studio release that, from start to gaga finish, is a hosanna to a single company, its products, philosophy and implicit politics. Plenty of movies sell stuff from fashion to wars and religion; this one sells the Tao of Google….

The name Google, surprise, appears in almost every scene in every conceivable cutesy, slangy permutation (noun, verb, adjective) in what sounds like every other line of dialogue. That the studio releasing this feature-length ad, 20th Century Fox, would lend its brand to another branded behemoth like this is vulgar if not shocking, especially given how numbers-driven studios have become. The systems that they increasingly employ to try and build hits may be not as famous or secret as Google’s algorithm, but there are, um, links. Or in the words of one industry adviser: “As audiences are more interactive than ever in their entertainment consumption, it’s become increasingly easier for marketers and the information technology community to gather data on their preferences.” Someone really said this. You can Google it.

And how much script approval did Google have?  Claire Cain Miller tells us:

Lorraine Twohill, Google’s vice president of global marketing, said at the premiere that Mr. Vaughn approached Google with the idea two years ago, and the company agreed.  [Two years ago?  He got his movie from idea to wide release in TWO YEARS?  Do you know how long that usually takes, stars or no stars?]

The marketing department worked with the film’s producers throughout the process and read the script. Mr. Levy said that Google did not have editorial control and that much of the final film was improvised by Mr. Vaughn and Mr. Wilson anyway.

Still, according to news reports, Google had some veto power: it jettisoned a scene in which one of its driverless cars crashed. (Instead, as the two stars stare at the empty driver’s seat, Mr. Wilson’s character says, “It’s scary because it’s new.”) Yet Google didn’t step in with other elements, like the Google employee who moonlights at a strip club.

Google clearly thinks the film can do wonders for recruiting.

This is a tribute to Google’s remarkable tone deafness–remember, this was the company that put out what was supposedly a “user generated” YouTube video of a perfect wedding processional choreographed to…a Chris Brown track.  The week after Chris Brown beat Rihanna into the hospital.  A video that was clearly produced before the incident and that Google used anyway after the incident. (The “JK Wedding Video” which supposedly were real people.  See “YouTube’s monetization claims: Where’s the beef?“)

Welcome to the new new native advertising.  Now the real question is–how much did Google pay for the product placement.

My bet–Fox wasn’t born yesterday and they protected their downside.  How they did that will eventually come out.

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