The Drama You've Been Craving

"The series continues to evolve into a vehicle for sponsorship and product placement."
"FishBar": two alcoholic fish, one chain-smoking, keep you focused on the branded alcoholic beverage of the week. What a concept.
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Tuesday Jan. 2, 2001

Honkworm Brainwashing Strategy Revealed

A diabolical marketing firm attempts to steal your mind.

By Michael Goldberg

Just when I was feeling like the seasoned cynic, along comes an email press release that makes me feel like a babe in the woods.

It begins: "Honkworm International, leading creator of branded online entertainment, has announced the 'Violence of the Lambs' episode of its cult-classic "FishBar" series is an official selection of the first ever 2001 Sundance Online Film Festival."

Whoa, Nelly! The "leading creator of branded online entertainment"? Having viewed an episode of "FishBar" right after I got the press release, I can tell you we're talking nothing special when it comes to "entertainment," or even "online entertainment." (I would also question the "leading creator" description, as well as the "cult-classic" adjective, but it is a press release....)

As for "branded online entertainment," frankly, I think it's as reprehensible as branded offline entertainment.

We're talking product placement, and product placement is lame, whether the product happens to be a good one (organic apples) or a bad one (cigars). And, yeah, I know that kids don't seem to care if their favorite pop star is wearing all Levi's duds (Lauryn Hill) or, back in the day, Adidas (Run-D.M.C.), and getting paid to do it. But that's where the adults are supposed to come in. We're supposed to act responsibly. Everything should not bend over before the almighty buck.

"A Vehicle For Sponsorship"

The PR release continues: "Ever since main characters Tommy and Donnie tipped their first Budweiser in early 1999, FishBar has effectively mixed quality entertainment with branded messaging. The series continues to evolve into a vehicle for sponsorship and product placement, always retaining the integrity of its entertainment value and originality."

"FishBar" features two fish who hang out at a bar drinking, with a big branded bottle on the bar in front of them. I guess the idea is that you watch the show and get brainwashed into thinking that the fish's beverage is your beverage of choice.

It's no mystery why an advertiser would like to get the product integrated right into the show (online or off) — that way you can't escape it. You either turn off the show, of you see the damn product for the duration.

Understanding all of this, I find it sickening, even though I should know better. The reality is that there really isn't much worth watching, online or off. But I keep hoping that something even as good as, say, "N.Y.P.D. Blue" once was — or even the first year or so of "Thirtysomething" — will show up. When it does, I don't want to be looking at a tube of Crest toothpaste on the main character's bathroom counter, or a Hostess berry pie wrapper or a can of Coke or a Sony Vaio.

Evil "Branding Efforts," Evil "Corporations"

If you think about television for about 20 seconds, you understand that the whole point of that medium is to sell you something. The programs are the bait that gets us to watch, thus opening our brains up for the real programming.

The Web will become like television to the 9th power, if the corporations have their way. "FishBar" is a calculated attempt to create something cool, something that the moneyed Net generation will buy into. It reminds me of those house hippies that record companies hired in the late '60s and early '70s to go out and pitch the latest albums to the long-haired, pothead FM-radio DJs. It's the Trojan Horse scenario.

More from that informative press release, this time a quote from Honkworm CEO Johan Liedgren (is he real or just a robot, programmed with the corporate message?): "With the increasing importance of the Internet to branding efforts, corporations find themselves having to think like media companies. Offering major advertisers entertainment that builds brand equity and a loyal audience is the focus of our business."

The release continues: "It is this need — to go above and beyond the advertising norm, and away from the obsolete banner ad — that has sent big brands to studios like Honkworm to complete their online branding strategy."

Tool Of The Devil

In other words, Honkworm is a tool of the devil. Now I get it! Honkworm sees itself in the vanguard of a movement to totally co-opt online entertainment. If it has its way, you will not be able to look at a single online entertainment file without having someone's logo in your face.

A final word from Honkworm: "FishBar is one of many Honkworm properties that appeal to consumers seeking quality online entertainment. Aside from seamlessly adding branded messages to its existing shows, Honkworm also develops new properties for targeted audiences and markets." Pleasant dreams.

Michael Goldberg is the president of He founded Addicted To Noise in 1994.

© 2000, 2001 Michael Goldberg. All rights reserved.