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Gucci Gucci Who? RJ Reynolds Disowns Kreayshawn Camel Pack

Posted by Abe Sauer on June 16, 2011 07:00 PM

Gucci Gucci is a parasitically catchy tune with a (NSFW) video that has already rung up over 3 million views. The track is singlehandedly credited with landing the unknown and largely untested Oakland artist Kreayshawn (the self-styled 21-year-old 'creation' whose real name is Natassia Zolot) a $1 million recording contract with Sony.

And after pop artists Spears, Ke$ha, Lopez and Lady Gaga filled their recent videos with product, the anthem's chorus "Gucci Gucci, Louis Louis, Fendi Fendi, Prada" is at once an endorsement, and an indictment, of commercialism in pop.

As Kreayshawn recently told Complex magazine, "It’s not really to say ‘F**k Louis’ [Vuitton] or ‘F**k Gucci.’ I have a Louis belt. Basically, it’s saying don’t let the labels make you who you are. Sprinkle it in there, but have your own style."

Her hit video is packed with products and namechecks a variety of brands, including Swisher, Arby's, Google, Barbie, and Twitter. That "style" may land Kreayshawn in trouble with RJ Reynolds, the producer of the Camel cigarettes prominantly featured in the video.

Of the two brands featured in the video that got back to us, both stated that not only was there no cooperation with the video's producers, but they also expressed complete ignorance of the video's existence at all.

A Chrysler spokesperson told us that it had nothing to do with the lengthy and large Dodge Challenger placement — somewhat surprising, given that Chrysler has been on a huge product placement push in 2011. The spokesperson suggested that it was possible the producers procured it from a dealer or car rental service. The production company told us otherwise.

In an odd wrinkle to the Gucci Gucci story, Strange Customs, the video's production company, told us the Dodge Challenger "was on loan from The Church of Scientology, Celebrity Center in Los Angeles." Of this bit of trivia, the Chrysler rep would only comment, "Interesting…"

The brand that finds nothing interesting about Gucci Gucci is Camel-cigarette maker RJ Reynolds.

In one club scene, Kreayshawn is shown dancing and clutching her pack of Camels. 

The brand had "absolutely no involvement," said a spokesperson for RJ Reynolds.

It's not a surprise that Camel would decline any involvement as, just for starters, such involvement would be illegal. Part of the massive, historic billion dollar settlement negotiated between US states and tobacco companies in the late 1990s included a legal ban on tobacco companies actively seeking product placements in films. (Note: This of course did not mean a ban on either smoking in films or on film producers deciding for themselves to include cigarette brands.)

RJR's record on cigarette product placement is particularly embarrassing.

For years, cigarette companies paid stars and producers to put smoking onscreen. Then, the Lark cigarette placement in 1989's James Bond film License to Kill finally triggered a public protest. In 1990 the brands voluntarily agreed to swear off the practice. Except, not really.

The Legacy Tobacco Documents Library contains proof that cigarette brands just farmed out their product placement efforts.  RJ Reynolds in particular contracted with Rogers & Cowan International to supply filmmakers with RJR products, though it stipulated that none of these should be provided for scenes which would "portray the brands in a negative manner" such as "smoking by dying persons."

RJR was hardly alone. The Legacy archive contains numerous correspondence between product placement firms and manufacturers well after the 1990 commitment, such as the May 13, 1992 contract renewal agreement between The American Tobacco Company and Unique Product Placement Inc.

Cigarette companies have good reason to favor product placement: Effectiveness. Numerous studies have proven that smoking onscreen promotes smoking by audiences. One study even found that onscreen smoking resulted in a large uptick in smoking immediately after leaving the movie theatre.

But neither the 1990 voluntary commitment against product placement nor the 1998 law against it have actually cut down on the instances of smoking in films. A 2005 peer-reviewed study Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education identified and curated 40 different studies, funding that "smoking in the movies decreased from 1950 to 1990 and then increased rapidly. In 2002, smoking in movies was as common as it was in 1950."

Then there is the 2002 study "Tobacco At The Movies: Tobacco Use In PG-13 Films." Comparing incidence of tobacco use and brand appearance in PG-13 movies in the two years before (1996, 1997) and after (1999, 2000) the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement, the study found that "Tobacco use is up 50% in post-settlement films. Of the films showing tobacco use, they averaged 1,288 frames of tobacco use before the settlement and 1,938 frames after the settlement." It added, "Fewer films feature negative statements about tobacco use. Before the settlement, 31% (5 of 16) of movies showed tobacco use as a negative; post-settlement that number fell to 17%."

Cigarette manufacturers do not clear their products for use onscreen, but filmmakers find workarounds, using distinctive brand color combinations to visually suggest the intended brands, without actually featuring the brands. For example, in the PG-13 film Taken, the Marlboro logo is featured in a scene. Except, a closer look proves that it isn't the full Marlboro logo.

In Domino, Keira Knightley smokes what appear to be Marlboro Lights. A closer look proves that some of the labeling is missing from the box.

Same thing in Last International Playboy.

In The Departed, Leonardo DiCaprio pulls a smoke from a pack without a visible label. But who needs a visible label when that color scheme?

Label or not, today's cigarette product placement is less about the brands themselves and more about smoking as an activity in general. Indeed, a risen tide lifts all ships.

Philip Morris USA has a whole web page dedicated to its PR on the subject, which states, "‪Our policy since 1990 has been both to refrain from paying for product placement and to decline all third-party requests to use, display or reference our cigarette brands, products, packages or advertisements in any movies or television shows or other public entertainment media.‬"

Despite this, Marlboro's brand has appeared in 12 number one box office films since 2001.

The cigarette makers say they have no control over et use of their products. In 2006, Philip Morris USA bought ad space in Hollywood trade publications imploring “producers, directors and actors” use no tobacco in movies “directed at youth."

Three years later, the top-grossing movie of all time, Avatar, prominently featured a protagonist smoking. A decade earlier, the second highest grossing film of all time, Titanic, also featured prominent smoking. J

ames Cameron, in fact, is notorious for this, using smoking as a "toughness" character development shortcut (Linda Hamilton in Terminator 2) as well as a placing logos such as Marlboro and Lucky Strike logo in family films like Titanic and True Lies.

Activists have pushed for a bold rating solution that would end smoking in PG-13 films almost overnight. Petitioning Hollywood's rating agency, the MPAA, groups like Smoke Free Movies have called for all movies showing smoking to be rated "R." While the MPAA announced that it would "consider" the measure, it has taken no action since 2007.

Strange Customs, the production company behind Kreayshawn's Gucci Gucci video, although quick to comment on the Scientology Center source of the Challenger, did not respond to further inquires about the Camel placement.

RJ Reynolds, while fast to confirm that it had nothing to do with the placement, failed to return repeated calls about condemning the placement or the brand's official position on the proposal to rate films with smoking with an "R."

Comments

Jonathan Polansky United States says:

Great story!

Were the complete brands visible on screen? Might they have been obscured (sort of!) for the video release?

We know that the California Attorney General's office routinely sends a rocket to a cigarette company whenever their brands show up on screen. There have been cases of a tobacco brand reference or visual being obscured in post. But if you can still see that red chevron, you know who's still benefiting. As you note, market leaders don't actually need to show their brands, except perhaps in the overseas markets where Hollywood makes more than half its money these days. They sell the beginner brands young smokers go to first, anyway.

Tobacco companies are not shy about litigating to protect their brands against misappropriation. But — you somehow never see them do it with movies or music videos. They just act "shocked."

And if I were an advertiser who liked deniability because it makes product placement that much more convincing, I'd love to have a close-mouthed, Hollywood-embedded, high-access, third-party brokering my brands. Just like one of those old-line Los Angeles PR firms Big Tobacco used to put on retainer, only harder to breach. Something like a, well, church...

June 16, 2011 08:37 PM #

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