Thursday, February 28, 2013

Arbitrage- Sponsorship for the One Percent

There might not be a better place in the world for a company to advertise its product than in the heart of New York City.  Look in any direction from any vantage point in the metropolis and you are sure to see hundreds of logos, pictures, and slogans advertising specific products and services.  On Wall Street, corporations from around the globe are represented, and the plethora of things they sell or do has a special presence in this global city.  A noteworthy movie that takes place here is Arbitrage.  This film, like the Wall Street movies, takes the average viewer into the upper reaches of New York society, into the lives of the one percent.   It has an interesting, if not always easily followed, storyline, and a solid cast headlined by Richard Gere performing as multi-billionaire corporate head Robert Miller.  However, Arbitrage also is a movie that flies under the radar for a select few reasons.  It falls short due to its occasional subpar audio techniques, high-end financial terminology that can be hard to follow, and an abrupt ending that really left me wondering whether I had made a good decision watching this film.  Regardless, the movie creates an ideal platform for advertisers looking to get a product or service into the cinema.  You can probably divide up this film into three categories: implicit, drawn out use of particular brands, explicit shots of corporate logos in the scene, and oral advertising based on characters mentioning specific products.  These categories seem to coincide with this film’s appeals to ethos (ethics), logos (logic), and pathos (emotion) as a whole.

                Simply put, this movie is about the one percent.  When you think of ritzy, upper-class living, certain things come to mind: Mercedes-Benz, Tiffany, Giorgio Armani, Rolex and the like.  This film’s representation of the one percent needs to include these types of things if it is to maintain credibility.  The beginning of the movie involves showing the main character, an immensely wealthy corporate head, flying in his private jet from Miami to New York, disembarking, an being escorted to a waiting Mercedes-Benz.  This is the most obvious upper-class item that Robert Miller owns in my eyes, as it is more difficult for an average Joe like me to spot the other items someone like Miller and those that surround him.  Someone familiar with the latest fashion trends will probably be able to identify the particular suits that Miller is always wearing and the dresses that his wife Ellen wears to various parties.  The film’s producers will likely be concerned with an accurate portrayal of one of the country’s richest families, so they will be sure to include the latest accessory or fashion statement.  On the flip side, Mercedes-Benz probably had competition from BMW, Lexus, and Cadillac for the role of Miller’s choice of automobile.  Hence, both sides probably came out on top, as a premier luxury brand adds to the ethos of the wealthy New Yorker, and a premier spot in a major film about a one percent individual can become a selling point for Mercedes-Benz, which is only able to market its top-of-the-line cars to the wealthiest Americans.  In terms of cars, there is also a consistent appeal to a middle class viewer as well.  Miller’s friend Jimmy, a twenty-three year old African-American, who is the son of his former driver, drives a Jeep Grand Cherokee when he gets Miller out of a very delicate situation.  This is an appeal to the rest of us, as this is a vehicle with a reputation for being rugged and hard-working.  In Everything’s an Argument by Andrea Lunsford, analyzing an argument based on ethos requires personal interpretation of the details (Lunsford 102).  In advertising, this means looking at the situation carefully and asking if such a product is fitting in this time and place.  Jimmy is clearly not as well-off as Miller, and hence has a middle-class automobile.  He is also African-American, which creates a tricky background for establishing that fact.  Does the rugged Grand Cherokee, a fairly expensive SUV, characterize Jimmy as a hardworking-man making a name for himself, or, when compared to what surrounds Miller, does it make him look poor and draw further attention to his race?  This exemplifies the decisions that an audience member will have to make in order to properly judge a character.  It all comes back to ethos, which the corporations whose products and services are placed in Arbitrage certainly need to take into consideration.

                Most sponsorship in this film is not comprised of long, drawn-out use of the product or service by the characters.  More often, the audience catches a glimpse of the company’s title, slogan, or logo.  Not surprisingly, these are all appeals to logos, as the audience will logically decide whether to acknowledge the corporation in a positive or negative way upon seeing its advertisement.  The first blatant advertisement that appears is a massive logo on the side of a Manhattan skyscraper, the word MetLife.  This hinted to me that there would be a lot of advertisements to come.  One that really stands out appears in the form of an ad on the roof of a taxi that Miller is getting out of.  It is for Men’s Wearhouse, and I immediately asked myself, “Does Robert Miller buy his suits at Men’s Wearhouse?”  The answer is obviously no, as he is much too wealthy to shop at such a mainstream store, but the fact that I made such a connection means that the advertisement did its job.  If an ad sticks in a viewer’s mind for any length of time, then the marketing firm for the corporation has done its job to some degree.    Another scene that features a particular product very prominently is a conversation between Miller and his daughter, Brooke.  They are discussing his sale of the company, and she pulls out a copy of Forbes Magazine, which has him featured on the cover.  I thought to myself, that if such a business executive has a subscription to Forbes magazine; real investors might be convinced that Forbes puts out sound business advice.  Just seeing the brand name of the publishing company made it stick in my mind for about ten seconds, which is more than long enough for me to be able to recall it at a later time.  These random acts of cinema sponsorship seemed subtle enough in my book, but were Brooke and Miller's personal handlings of the magazine a bit too blatant as far as cinematic advertising is concerned?  In the article he wrote for the Orange County Register, Martin J. Smith discusses the views of some critics of cinematic advertising.  Those who want paid advertisements to be listed beforehand often say that product placement like this is not realistic but rather anti-realistic (Smith 2).  They would certainly disapprove of Miller picking up the name-brand magazine, examining it, and tossing it aside.  I believe that, while they have a case in this scene, the title of the magazine can only be seen for a split second, enough time to advertise the product but not enough time to flaunt the name of the product.  Regardless of which side you're on in this case, the product placements appealing to logos certainly do their job.  This film is money well spent for the advertisers.

                Several implied advertisements come in the form of a character orally mentioning a corporation.  These are appeals to the pathos of the viewer, as one will most likely either have an immediate positive or negative reaction to the direct mentioning of a product.  There are two scenes late in the movie that evoke a response when a character mentions a product or service.  Miller and Jimmy are arguing in the latter’s apartment late one night.  Jimmy tells Miller that he plans to go to Virginia to work and Miller asks what he plans to do.  Jimmy replies that he bought an Applebee’s, and this response both catches Miller off guard and made me laugh a little inside.  I said to myself, “What a time to mention something as random as a restaurant chain!”  If the majority of viewers had the same reaction that I did, the result could be one of two things.  People who had seen the film might start to joke about this scene and either decide to go to Applebee’s or to avoid the popular chain.  This is a risky advertising move on the part of the chain, as they could lose a few patrons because of it.  However, I don’t think that a chain as big as Applebee’s will do too much worrying about a few patrons.  The other scene that involves an oral advertisement is when Detective Briar is talking about Miller, who he knows is responsible for the death of a young art dealer.  He says that “one doesn’t not go to jail just because he’s on CNBC.”  I personally thought to myself, “Well, that’s a fitting reference in a movie set on Wall Street.”   However, this is not the only reaction that could be derived from this.  If you are someone who watches Fox Business Channel, you might snicker to yourself, believing that you have a better trading strategy than even Robert Miller.  All-in-all, the reference to CNBC, which proclaims itself as "First in Business Worldwide" shows us how big the NBC corporation's business channel is.  Whether this has a positive or negative effect on its ratings is entirely up to the interpretations of the viewer.  These oral advertisements are tricky, but if done right, they can be a home run for sponsoring corporations.  For Applebee's and CNBC, they will just have to wait and see what the fallout is going to be like.
                Was Arbitrage a Hollywood smash hit?  The answer is no, but most of the advertisers in this film got through pretty much unscathed and probably gained a handful of users of their product in the process.  The rich people who watch this movie won't help but notice the high-end products being used, the advertisements plastered on the streets of New York  help set the scene and stick in the minds of viewers at the same time, and the implied oral advertisements have potential to gain patrons or viewers.  In all, I have to give advertising in this film two tickets.  I do this mostly due to the fact that Applebee's and CNBC have something to lose in regards to their oral product placement.  Again, a few patrons or viewers will not make or break their reputations, but perhaps they could have gotten their names out in a different way.  In all though, it seems that both movie and advertisers got through this unscathed and stand to gain in today's world which is increasingly centered around what Robert Miller held dear, money.


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