Forrest Gump

Remember that scene in Forrest Gump, pictured above, in which dopey ol’ Forrest recites his somewhat unsophisticated views on the relationship between life and a box of chocolates? Remember the advertisement for Coca-Cola on the street bench behind him?

If you answered yes to the last question, think again: that ad was never in Robert Zemeckis’s 1994 crowd pleaser. It’s been digitally inserted as part of an eerily impressive show reel by MirriAd, a company that specializes in a service bound to tantalize the taste buds of remaster-a-holics like George Lucas while sending shivers down the spine of film aficionados.

MirriAd’s pitch is that they offer a “new way to reach audiences by digitally embedding brands into video content.” Or, without the spin: they surreptitiously insert new advertisements into TV programs and feature films that have already been shot, edited, done and dusted and sold to television networks. The logic being that TV networks can then sell in-program advertising spots to any corporation willing to fork over the dosh, of which we can assume there will be many.

MirriAd’s show reel (watch it below) demonstrates how they can smoothly insert a Coca-Cola ad into Forrest Gump, a Diesel ad into Zoolander, a Special K ad into The Cosby Show and so on. But if the process is so smooth, so surreptitious, why, you may ask, is it cause for concern?

For one thing the ads have been inserted without the filmmakers consent, which prompts ethical questions about the rights artists have to their work even after it has been sold to distributors and exhibitors. More importantly, think about the where this technology could lead.

How would you feel about watching the shower scene in Psycho with a tube of Decore lingering in the background?

What about an ad for Lincraft inserted into The Exorcist?

A promo for News Limited spliced into Citizen Kane?

A box of Prozac that found its way into One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest?

You get the point.

Crazy, you say? Unheard of? It will never catch on?

It’s already in the mail. Just a few days ago Channel 7 announced it has signed a multi-million dollar deal with MirriAd and, according to a Herald Sun report, is “set to rake in hundreds of thousands of dollars through product-placement in its top-rating drams.”

The report reads:

In an Australian TV drama first, the network has signed a multi-million dollar deal with UK company MirriAd, which specialises in “embedded advertising” to digitally place products in its much-loved shows Packed To The Rafters and Home and Away.

“We’ve come to an agreement to use one of our ‘hubs’, a bit of technology, on their premises and they can then analyse any shows they like and any shows they think are appropriate for this style of advertising,” MirriAd CEO Mark Popkiewicz said.

No word as yet about any feature films that have been slated for MirriAd’s services. However, given feature films are showcased on their show reel, it doesn’t take Doogie Howser MD to deduce that this will come as sure as night is dark and day is light. Is it too much to ask for some sort of government regulation to prevent films from being tampered with in this manner?

Probably, yes, given films are in a business sense commercial products like any other, and it’s up to their owners/licensers to determine how they are exhibited. Let’s hope public sentiment is so strongly opposed to MirriAd toying with our films that the backlash would be too severe for the networks to justify. But that hope seems to be slim at best.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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