Bees and Donuts: Hyping Bee Movie and The Simpsons Game
Through much of the nineties, two television programs sustained me: The Simpsons and Seinfeld. Others came and went, but not only did those two shows consistently hold my interest, but their many repeats would too. One of my roommates would even record the evening reruns of Seinfeld while watching them, and watch them again first thing the next morning, and Iâ€™d often join him. So Jerry and Homer are close to me. I donâ€™t spend as much time with them now as I used to, but I like to check in on them every once in a while, since they are old friends.
Recently, the Jerry Seinfeld and Simpsons franchises have been doing interesting transmedia jigs. Seinfeldâ€™s Bee Movie is coming out on Friday, and television is all abuzz with cross-promotion: Seinfeld appeared on 30 Rock (and through that episode, he appeared on most other NBC shows too), he has an HP ad that refers to the movie, and heâ€™s filmed a seemingly endless number of shorts that are filling ad breaks. Heâ€™s ubiquitous, so much so that Iâ€™m sure Iâ€™m missing about 453 other venues where heâ€™s hawking his movie (I couldâ€™ve sworn the dude behind the counter at McDonalds looked familiar today), and in the time it takes me to type this, Seinfeld will have appeared in 58 more venues. The Simpsons meanwhile have a forthcoming video game, based on the film (so, yes, itâ€™s the game of the film of the television show), with some ads on television, and a particularly innovative and fun official website. In case itâ€™s not evident yet, I find the Seinfeld transmedia jig annoying, and the Simpsons one exemplary. More below the fold…
My complaints with Seinfeldâ€™s jig are that (a) itâ€™s not funny, and (b) it redefines overkill. Taking the first complaint, humor is of course subjective, but I love Seinfeld and think itâ€™s hilarious, so why am I not laughing now? I still laugh at the reruns, and itâ€™s not just a nostalgic, â€œah, remember the days?â€ laugh. Jerry is credited as having written Bee Movie, but itâ€™s unclear whether heâ€™s written the multiple shorts. If so, boy have ten years taken their toll on him (or perhaps this is proof that Larry David always was the funny one?). For instance, one short involved a â€œmoron with swatchesâ€ coming up to Seinfeld to ask his opinion on various swatches. The joke? He didnâ€™t say what the swatches were for. Or another involved a young man bringing in coffee to the movieâ€™s writing staff, only to be ridiculed after he recommends they add a bee in scuba gear. After leaving the room, a writer informs Seinfeld that the young man is a Spielberg, and so Seinfeld runs after him, and we then see the man running the writing room, and Seinfeld bringing him coffee. This is sophomoric comedy writing at best. If I was watching these in a museum of television in the future alongside any episode of Seinfeld, Iâ€™d swear that the shorts were products of an immature pre-Seinfeld Jerry, not the post-Seinfeld one. Iâ€™ve actually found myself wishing NBC would just give me a regular ad rather than these shorts (ie: thatâ€™s me behind Jerry in the picture below).
Then there is the overkill. These shorts are everywhere. As said above, he even advertises the show in another ad (for HP), in a Wayneâ€™s World â€œIâ€™m parodying product placement while still doing itâ€ kind of way. His appearance on 30 Rock also aimed to make rampant cross-promotion the subject of humor, as Jack digitally adds Seinfeld as a guest star on every NBC show. Personally, I think 30 Rockâ€™s already done the cross-promotion/product placement joke enough, so I was already yawning. But whereâ€™s the humor if NBC really is repurposing Jerry left, right, and center? If Simpsons vitamins gave people rapid heartbeats, the joke that Krusty vitamins did the same to Bart wouldnâ€™t be funny.
Ultimately, though, I consider the shorts, etc. as overkill because theyâ€™re not funny â€“ if they were funny, they would actually count as content, and Iâ€™d be less bothered by their omnipresence. Without making me laugh, they function simply as ads. Iâ€™m perfectly willing to accept that some might find them funny, but even so, DreamWorksâ€™ strategy here is clearly quite high-risk, since it relies on people finding them funny. Since I donâ€™t, Iâ€™m forced to think Jerryâ€™s lost it. And if Jerryâ€™s lost it, Iâ€™m not interested in Bee Movie. At all.
Itâ€™s also an interesting campaign since itâ€™s centered on Jerry, not on Jerry as the bee. In other words, theyâ€™re not actually trying to sell the character as interesting; rather, theyâ€™re putting all their eggs in the basket (or pollen in the flower?) of Jerry Seinfeldâ€™s star power. This seems rare for an animated film. Mike Myers is a great comedian, but Shrek was hyped as the meeting of character and actor. Same with Tom Hanksâ€™ Woddy or Tim Allenâ€™s Buzz Lightyear in Toy Story. Granted, Jerryâ€™s been away from the public eye for a while, but a bee movie would seem to address a slightly different demo than the Seinfeld rerun crowd, or at least it could benefit from a few more character-centered ads that address the non-Jerry fans in the potential audience. (Question to the parents who might be reading this: are such ads appearing on kids channels?). In other words, I think theyâ€™re putting the wrong entity at the center of this elaborate cross-promotion.
Simpsons game ads have been considerably less ubiquitous, so already I donâ€™t feel stung by hype (sorry â€“ I have to get some bad puns in somewhere) as much as by Bee Movie, and I am thus less inclined to complain. This may seem a trivial point, but with great hype comes great responsibility (in case youâ€™re keeping score, thatâ€™s a spider(man) reference, not a bee one), to do the hype right.
My admiration of the Simpsons hype stems from an appreciation of its official website. It has the standard News, Features, Media, Order Now, and Forums links, but also includes â€œadsâ€ of its own, each a fun parody. At the top of the screen, a banner advertises Neverquest (a parody of Everquest), then running down the bottom right of the screen are a link to Moetaku (a parody of website Kotaku), and links to pages advertising Medal of Homer (a parody of Medal of Honor), Mob Rules (a GTA parody), Neverquest, and Super Happy Fun-Fun Game (a generic parody of Japanese kid games).
The game parodies are very well done, with the ad for Mob Rules offering a brilliant parody of the mis en scene of Grand Theft Auto ads, complete with crane cam and heli-cam pans of the landscape, video of Scratchy on a killing rampage, and a blaring soundtrack of The Scorpions â€œRock You Like a Hurricane.â€ Voiceover from Marge (of all people to be at the center of a GTA game!) opens the clip: â€œLisa, you and I are gonna clean up this video game once and for all,â€ and the final scene of the ad shows a huge explosion with Marge walking away quietly, clearly the guilty party.
Medal of Homer is equally fun, with Medal of Honorâ€™s signature switching between scratchy black-and-white newsreel-style â€œhistoric footageâ€ and the colored game world. The soundtrack offers an at-first somber, then increasingly inspiring military/Saving Private Ryan/Pearl Harbor/Medal of Honor style orchestral and choir accompaniment, as title cards read â€œIn the Last Great Invasion / Of the Last Great War / They Gave Each Other Strength [cut to image of Homer standing beside Bart, both in combat fatigues, Homer scratching his ass] / To Make History [Homer interjects, â€œOo, look at me, Iâ€™m France. Iâ€™m a scared girl, I donâ€™t like being bombed and attackedâ€].â€
The ads serve dual function, offering very funny and uncannily well-done parody, but also filling their action with apparent scenes from the real Simpsons game. Itâ€™s unclear exactly how much of the cutaways are produced for the parodic ad and how much come from the games, but all of the gameplay seems quite clearly drawn from the Simpsons game itself. So on one level, the parodic ads work symbolically, using crafty parody to sell a product (The Simpsons) that is arguably best known for its parody. This assures the would-be purchaser that the ethos and character of the game will be consistent with the television show. It also subtly performs â€œvideo game street cred,â€ by suggesting that the gameâ€™s producers are as knowledgeable about the game world as are the television showâ€™s writers of the television world. The parody performs a keen-eyed awareness of the tropes and requirements of games. All the while, though, and on another level, the clips show actual gameplay. Yet by dividing the images up between the various clips, the site subtly poses that the game is a hybrid of (the fun of) GTA-style explore-and-smash games, first-person shooters such as Medal of Honor, role-playing games like Everquest, and whimsical Japanese kids games.
Looking at Seinfeld and The Simpsons alongside each other, I canâ€™t help but conclude that my friend Jerryâ€™s lost his way, and needs a little help returning to the hive. Homer and co., though, seem in fine form. Certainly, from the beginning, The Simpsons seem to have gotten how to cross-promote, nearly always making sure that the irreverent, playful, parodic character of the show is stamped on everything from talking Homer bottle openers, or Krusty Certificate of Approval stickers, to the movie, to the 7-11s that became Kwik E Marts this summer, to the games, to the advertising for the games. Seinfeld and co. seem to have been trying for the same thing with their shorts, in that Jerryâ€™s best known for small observational humor. But the shorts arenâ€™t very funny. And as for his joking around with being a product placement sellout on 30 Rock, on the HP ad, and on some of the shorts, meta-parody was never his schtick. When placing products, he was entirely conventional (cf. Junior Mints episode), so he should leave the meta-parody to Krusty, Homer, and those who do it best. Or, if heâ€™s trying to break out and try something new â€“ entirely fair enough â€“ the hype ought to stop trying to sell old Jerry and just focus on the bee. Meanwhile, when Bee Movie and The Simpsons Game both come out, Iâ€™ll be playing the latter, and avoiding the former.Tags: ads, Bee Movie, computer games, franchises, NBC, Seinfeld, Simpsons, Simpsons Game, television, transmedia