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Posts Tagged ‘Louis CK’

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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I really enjoyed the first episode of the new season of Comedians in Cars Getting CoffeeJerry Seinfeld’s web series. The featured guest was Louis C.K., a comedian I admire for both his comedic chops and his business savvy.

As is standard on the show, Jerry and his guest talked shop. Aside from the stark contrast in style between the two—Jerry is known for his clean-as-a-whistle humor while Louis C.K. is anything but—the two comedians have a lot in common. They both have or had their own eponymous TV series, they both started out and continue to do stand-up, and they both seem self-aware enough to know how big a part luck (in addition to their immense talent) has played in their success.

During the 20-minute episode, Louis tells a couple of funny anecdotes, including one about grounding his boat the first time he takes it out, and being ship-wrecked for an entire day with his young daughters. He tells another story about going to the movies stoned and sneaking in candy. In that one, he mentions that for this mission he hired an Uber car to drive him to the theater. (Uber is a new-ish car service app.)

I don’t know the first thing about shooting a TV show, but I happened to notice that the camera was not on Louis when the word “Uber” was said (if you watch the episode, it’s at the 15:04 mark). And while Uber made sense in the context of the story, something about its mention seemed fishy–meaning I suspected it was a paid product placement by Uber edited into Louis’s story after the fact. (It was also possible that I was simply piecing together the words “Seinfeld” and “Uber” after recently reading an article about how Jerry’s wife overpaid for an Uber ride for their kids during one of Uber’s price surges. That or the news of Uber’s kitten delivery promotion back in October took up permanent residence in my brain.)

Whatever the impetus, I was suspicious about the Uber mention and was left wondering if anyone else had seen the episode and felt the same way, so I took to Twitter and wrote this:

Like most of my tweets, it didn’t receive much of a response.  At that point I let it go for fear of sounding a little too obsessive about something so meaningless—but not before I told a few people about my product placement theory, including my co-worker.

Fast forward to this week, when that same co-worker told me that she’d watched recently the episode of CICGC after the Louis C.K. one and that there was a much more overt mention of Uber. The car Jerry was driving with his guest, comedian-actor Patton Oswalt, broke down. (In each episode, Jerry drives a super-rare antique car. That episode featured a DeLorean.) Ostensibly stranded on the side of the road, Oswalt used his Uber app to hail a car (with a close-up of him using the app on his phone), and the show “restarted,” now featuring an Uber car instead of the DeLorean that had broken down. The Uber car that came to pick them up was a Honda, which makes sense considering the show’s sponsor is Acura (and Honda owns Acura).

Now it was clear that Uber had been a product placement all along, and that Louis C.K.’s Uber mention was simply laying the groundwork for the Oswalt episode.

I have nothing against product placement, per say, but it’s a little tough to stomach considering the show is already book-ended by two Acura commercials written by Jerry Seinfeld himself.

Seinfeld was notorious for using brand names in so many of its episodes, though it was never clear whether they were paid because they seemed so organic to the story. Off the top of my head I can think of quite a few (incidentally all snack-related): Junior Mints, Snapple, Twix, O’Henry, Yoohoo, Snickers. Not to mention the not-so-ringing endorsement for the U.S. Postal Service and its finest employee, Newman.

In a new world where everyone’s trying to get native advertising just right on sites like Buzzfeed, Uber didn’t quite hit the mark for me because it seemed too forced and didn’t quite match the laid back, informal environment the show tries to cultivate.

Although come to think of it, I just wrote a 600-word blog post mentioning Uber multiple times–and some of you probably hadn’t heard of it before. So maybe it wasn’t as far off the mark as I thought.

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I know what you’re thinking: What’s the deal with this blog post? Does Jerry Seinfeld really need more appreciation?

Without listing his résumé, I think we can all agree that Jerry (who I’ll refer to by first name as not to confuse him with his somewhat popular TV show, Seinfeld) is about as successful as a human being can be within his chosen profession.

That being said, anything else he does for the rest of his life, in comedy anyway, will inevitably be less successful than Seinfeld.

Since his show went off the air in 1998*, Jerry’s body of work might be considered unremarkable. He participated in a 2002 documentary, Comedian (about being a comedian), in which he retired his old stand-up material and started his comedy career from scratch (apart from his obvious name recognition). He wrote, produced and starred in the animated Bee Movie (grossed $257 worldwide) and NBC reality series-slash-game show The Marriage Ref (canceled after 19 episodes over two seasons). He appeared throughout the seventh season of Seinfeld co-creator Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm for a faux Seinfeld reunion. He’s toured his stand-up act. And now he’s got a web series, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, a talk show about, well, you can figure it out.

*While most hit shows stay on air past their prime these days, Seinfeld was still putting up huge ratings numbers in its ninth and final season. As Jerry told Louis C.K. on CICGC, “My show was about four single people living this certain type of lifestyle. We didn’t want to do Kramer’s fiftieth birthday party.”

“Man, I gotta get on that internet,” Jerry once quipped on Seinfeld. Now 59 years old, he certainly seems to have gotten a hang of the web. In addition to CICGC, he recently participated in a Reddit AMA (ask me anything), where he discussed with his fans everything from cars to failed Seinfeld scripts (Jerry buys a handgun?) to the revelation that the secret behind Seinfeld‘s success was that Jerry was actually the straight man to Kramer, George and Elaine.

It’s not that I appreciate Jerry Seinfeld because he can still achieve success four decades after he started his career. I appreciate him because he’s still trying new things. The media, especially the internet, can be a cruel place, even for its most treasured celebrities. Jerry Seinfeld, or any other performer of his status, has very little to gain from putting himself out there again and again.

Maybe it’s an addiction, and he simply can’t help himself. It’s the idea, which Jerry himself has talked about, that he simply can’t stop looking at the world from a comedian’s perspective. So many little things in life will always be funny to him, and he’ll always be looking for ways to articulate and disseminate those funny moments in a stand-up routine or a script or simply a filmed conversation with a fellow comedian.

In his Reddit AMA Jerry he hinted at a new “big, huge, gigantic” project he’s working on with Larry David, which has fans like myself intrigued. Will it be as successful as Seinfeld? Probably not. But that’s not really the point, is it? The point is that, in Kramer’s words, Jerry’s out there, and he seems to be loving every minute of it.

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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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