And Now, a Word from My Sponsor

It's official: the world is one big commercial venture. If you had any doubts about it before, the new novel by Fay Weldon should eliminate them once and for all.

Weldon, until now a highly respected British writer, cut a deal with the Italian jeweler Bulgari to feature its stores and products in her book. In return for big bucks, of course. She mentions the company 12 times in 190 pages, which is once every 16 pages, or more often than characters in a Jackie Collins book have sex, if you can believe that. She was going to title the book Chicken Soup for the Pocketbook but didn't want to be crass. Instead she subtly worked the jeweler's name into the title--The Bulgari Connection--for which I'm sure she received a well-deserved bonus. Creativity like that shouldn't come cheap.

This concept may be new to books, but it's nothing that doesn't happen every day in the movies, where being paid for product placement has been happening since Frankenstein's neck bolts came to you courtesy of Sears Craftsman Tools. It hit a high--or low depending on your point of view--a few years ago when Pierce Brosnan, who played James Bond in Tomorrow Never Dies, not only used products in the movie, but shilled them on TV, in magazines, and on billboards.

He flashed his Bondian smile for products including BMW, Heineken, VISA, Smirnoff, Ericcson cellular phones, Omega watches, and even L'Oreal cosmetics. If he had his way we would have been drinking and driving while placing a credit card order for hair care products on our cell phone. And checking our watch to make sure it didn't take too long, of course. Maybe it's a sign of the Age of the Whore, but I don't remember Marlon Brando pitching butter after Last Tango in Paris or Nicholas Cage endorsing Wild Turkey when Leaving Las Vegas was released.

Part of what may have lead Weldon to accept money to sponsor her book is that in England, product endorsement has a long and noble history. For years a wide assortment of items have carried a regal looking emblem emblazoned with the words "By appointment to her Majesty the Queen." What this means is that a tractor-trailer filled with Robert's Golden Shred Marmalade backs up to Buckingham Palace every Tuesday and unloads enough jelly to keep Charles and Camilla Parker-Bowles happy doing, well, let's move on why don't we, there are things we really don't need to know about. In return, the company is allowed to reproduce that charming crest on the label of their product so thousands of her Majesty's loyal followers will flock to the stores and demand that they too be allowed to wear frumpy clothes and wave without moving their fingers.

In this country we go about it a little differently. Here money changes hands. For a slight fee--pick a number from one to ten and put lots of zeros behind it--your product can be the "Official [fill in the blank] of the [fill in the blank]." The New York Marathon has an official pasta, bagel, athlete's foot cream, and breathing device (and they're not your lungs, either). Mars, Miller, and Maidenform were registered as the Official Chocolate, Beer, and Undergarment of the Millennium. In sports, there's the Poulan/Weed Eater Independence Bowl, the St. Jude Liberty Bowl, and my favorite, the Chick-fil- A Peach Bowl. Any day now they'll announce that the two lowest ranked college teams will compete in the Ty-D-Bowl Toilet Bowl. Held in Flushing, NY, of course.

Why not expand this concept from the private sector to the federal government (commonly known as the tax sector)? They're always looking for money, and it's usually yours and mine. Corporate sponsorship could stop this practice by creating a whole new source of revenue. Depend could be the Official Incontinence Diaper of Medicare, which pisses our money away anyway. Band-Aids could be the Official Cover-up of Congress. And The War on Terrorism could be brought to you by Hefty Trash and Body Bags. In fact, there's no reason soldiers' uniforms and armored tanks couldn't be covered with sponsor's patches just like a race car driver's. In camouflage, of course.

Actually, this has been tried. NASA offered to sell ads on the side of its rockets but there weren't any takers. Russia lowballed it and got Pizza Hut to ante up $1.5 million for a 30-foot logo on a Proton rocket that went up last year. Obviously it can be done, we just have to market it right.

"We're at 'T' minus twenty Swatch seconds and counting...Ten, nine, eight Bioré Pore Perfect Deep Cleansing Nose Strips seconds to liftoff...four, three, there's a two-for-one sale at Wal-Mart this week, ignition."

"Roger Houston, we have AC Delco ignition."

"It's a perfect Post-It Note liftoff, Challenger."

"We're ready to separate, Houston."

"This separation is brought to you by Jacoby and Meyers personal injury and divorce attorneys."

"Separation is complete, Houston, we're attaining maximum Xanax orbit."

So what would this launching of a multi-gazillion dollar space shuttle actually cost the United States government? Nothing. In fact, it would probably earn enough money to buy every man, woman, and child an Oscar Mayer hot dog, the Official Weenie of the White House, any sitting president notwithstanding.

Which brings us to the real point of all this--getting sponsorship for me. The way I see it either the Intel Pentium or Doritos could be my official chip. Velveeta or an Elvis impersonator could be my official cheese. And Merriam-Webster and my third grade teacher could battle it out over being my official reference. My bank account is open for further suggestions.

More Mad Dog can be found online at: www.maddogproductions.com. His compilation of humorous travel columns, "If It's Such a Small World Then Why Have I Been Sitting on This Airplane For Twelve Hours?" is available from Xlibris Corporation. Email: md@maddogproductions.com.

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