Posts Tagged ‘FX’

Over the last decade I’ve grown increasingly sensitive to advertising both as a consumer—now that more ads are targeted to me—and as a professional, since I’ve spent most of that time working in the advertising industry.

I’ve written before on this blog about how one form of advertising, product placement, can go from seamless—almost subliminal—messaging to get us thinking about a brand without directly being fed a commercial in the traditional sense, to something that feels so out of place and distracting that the entertainment value of the content suffers.

On my brother Danny’s recommendation, I recently started catching up on FX’s new-ish series Baskets, starring Zach Galifianakis (the show was co-created by Zach Galifianakis, Louis C.K., and Jonathan Krisel).

Very early on in the series, the first episode in fact, one brand is prominently featured repeatedly on the show: Costco.

Galifianakis’s character, Chip Baskets, is a “classically trained” clown (he studied at an academy in France—which is in Europe, if you’re a fan of this show) who can only find clown work at a rodeo in California. As he climbs the walls to avoid being gored by a bull, his co-worker and fellow rodeo clown tosses him a t-shirt gun to help Chip win the crowd over. Inside the gun are Costco branded t-shirts. (The arena sponsor signage also includes Kirkland Signature, Costco’s private label brand.)

Later in the episode we meet Chip’s mother, played by Louie Anderson (yes, you read that correctly), goes on and on about the great deals she got at Costco, parading out a number of Kirkland Signature products for the camera to capture.

Furthermore, the insurance adjuster Chip meets when he crashes his motor scooter works for—you guessed it!—Costco. Did you know Costco offered auto insurance services? Me neither!

After the first couple of episodes I texted my brother: Baskets is kinda funny but it’s also a long commercial for Costco. So many Costco labels in every shot!

His reply: Haha yea I like to think of Costco as a character on the show.

As an advertiser, I suppose that’s the best possible outcome for such an overt product placement, isn’t it?

Later episodes take place partly at Costco, either with Martha talking to her boss there, or Mrs. Baskets taking Chip’s estranged wife Penelope there to shop. “A dollar fifty for a hot dog! Can you believe it?”

In another episode, Martha was on the verge of being fired because she hadn’t sold any executive memberships to Costco. After unsuccessfully trying to accomplish this feat, Chip’s mom eventually buys Chip the membership. “You don’t have a membership to Costco? What’s wrong with you?”

Oddly enough, as I was Googling to learn more about Costco’s paid product placement, I learned that this so obviously paid for season-long commercial for Costco was actually not paid at all! As it turns out, the agreement the show has made with Costco is that no money will exchange hands, Baskets will get access to a Costco store to film, and Costco will have no creative input. So while Costco–the character on the show–may at times be the butt of the joke, it is amenable to this condition in exchange for free screen time a.k.a. advertising.

So, whether it’s paid or unpaid, Costco’s heavy presence may have had a greater effect on me than I knew–despite supposedly being hyper-aware of advertising thanks to my profession.

Just today as my wife and I made a Costco run—a perk of moving to the suburbs!—we found ourselves at the checkout line when the cashier asked me if I was the primary cardholder on my account. Yes, I said, and so he introduced me to presumably his boss, who asked it me if I had considered—wait for it—an executive membership to Costco. My default reply was to ask what it was, but of course I was already familiar with it thanks to Baskets. After getting all the information I decided to pass on it, for now, but I was, let’s say, 10% more open to hearing more simply because I had known a little bit about it before I was approached.

And now here I am blogging about it, and you’re reading it, and you’re wondering what a Costco executive membership can get you. So the next time you say, “Advertising doesn’t work on me,” think about that for a moment longer and remember: It’s not always about getting you to open your wallet right now. Sometimes it’s just about planting the seed.

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It appears that Louis C.K. has beaten the system.

In a span of about six months, the stand-up comedian and star of FX’s hit series Louie, has managed to circumvent network comedy specials and ticket selling services to deliver his comedy to his fans at affordable prices. So far, it’s paid off big time.

Louis C.K. is currently selling tickets to his upcoming tour on his own website exclusively (that means no Ticketmaster) and is charging a flat fee of $45. As of today he’s sold 100,000 tickets–yes, your math is right: that’s $4.5 million. This comes about six months after he sold his self-produced comedy album Shameless electronically on his website for $5. (For that experiment, he took in about a million bucks.) I came across a quote from Louis C.K. the other day about his ticket-selling enterprise:

Doing things this way means I’m making less than I would have made if I did a standard tour, using the usual very excellent but expensive ticketing service. In some cities I’ve had to play smaller venues and do more shows. But I like doing more shows and about a year ago I reached a place where I realized I am making enough money doing comedy so the next thing that interested me is bringing your price down. Either way, I still make a whole lot more than my grandfather who taught math and raised chickens in Michigan. (www.shortformblog.com)


Enough money? When was the last time you heard anyone say they make enough money, especially an entertainer? Athletes regularly bolt from their old team to a new team for the promise of a big contract. Sometimes they even hold out (meaning they don’t show up for work) a year after signing the contract because they feel they deserve more than what was contractually agreed to. Eddie Murphy has made ungodly sums of money over the last ten years despite rarely doing a movie you legitimately enjoyed.

And yet Louis C.K., who wrote and directed 2001’s Pootie Tang (which grossed just $3.3 million in theaters) and whose 2006 HBO series Lucky Louie lasted just one season, says he’s making enough money doing comedy that he no longer needs network specials or Ticketmaster. Apparently, he actually made too much money so he gave $280,000 of it to charity!

If you’ve heard Louis C.K.’s stand-up or seen his show Louie, on which he also has complete creative control as the star, writer, and director, you know the guy’s hardly a saint. But that said, perhaps it takes the life experience–he’s put in 27 years in the business–of a vulgar, and sometimes sophomoric 44-year-old single father of two daughters to figure out that there’s more than one way to make a living doing comedy, and that it doesn’t always have to come at the cost of the people who are laughing at the jokes.

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