Home > ads, previews, stars > Bees and Donuts: Hyping Bee Movie and The Simpsons Game

Bees and Donuts: Hyping Bee Movie and The Simpsons Game

October 31st, 2007 | Jonathan Gray

Bee Movie

 

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 I’d often join him. So Jerry and Homer are close to me. I don’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. Seinfeld’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 he’s filmed a seemingly endless number of shorts that are filling ad breaks. He’s ubiquitous, so much so that I’m sure I’m missing about 453 other venues where he’s hawking his movie (I could’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, it’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 it’s not evident yet, I find the Seinfeld transmedia jig annoying, and the Simpsons one exemplary. More below the fold…

Seinfeld

My complaints with Seinfeld’s jig are that (a) it’s not funny, and (b) it redefines overkill. Taking the first complaint, humor is of course subjective, but I love Seinfeld and think it’s hilarious, so why am I not laughing now? I still laugh at the reruns, and it’s not just a nostalgic, “ah, remember the days?” laugh. Jerry is credited as having written Bee Movie, but it’s unclear whether he’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 “moron with swatches” coming up to Seinfeld to ask his opinion on various swatches. The joke? He didn’t say what the swatches were for. Or another involved a young man bringing in coffee to the movie’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, I’d swear that the shorts were products of an immature pre-Seinfeld Jerry, not the post-Seinfeld one. I’ve actually found myself wishing NBC would just give me a regular ad rather than these shorts (ie: that’s me behind Jerry in the picture below).

 

Jerry Seinfeld

 

Then there is the overkill. These shorts are everywhere. As said above, he even advertises the show in another ad (for HP), in a Wayne’s World “I’m parodying product placement while still doing it” 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 Rock’s already done the cross-promotion/product placement joke enough, so I was already yawning. But where’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 wouldn’t be funny.

Ultimately, though, I consider the shorts, etc. as overkill because they’re not funny – if they were funny, they would actually count as content, and I’d be less bothered by their omnipresence. Without making me laugh, they function simply as ads. I’m perfectly willing to accept that some might find them funny, but even so, DreamWorks’ strategy here is clearly quite high-risk, since it relies on people finding them funny. Since I don’t, I’m forced to think Jerry’s lost it. And if Jerry’s lost it, I’m not interested in Bee Movie. At all.

It’s also an interesting campaign since it’s centered on Jerry, not on Jerry as the bee. In other words, they’re not actually trying to sell the character as interesting; rather, they’re putting all their eggs in the basket (or pollen in the flower?) of Jerry Seinfeld’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 Hanks’ Woddy or Tim Allen’s Buzz Lightyear in Toy Story. Granted, Jerry’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 they’re putting the wrong entity at the center of this elaborate cross-promotion.

The Simpsons

Simpsons game ads have been considerably less ubiquitous, so already I don’t feel stung by hype (sorry – 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 you’re keeping score, that’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 “ads” 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 “Rock You Like a Hurricane.” Voiceover from Marge (of all people to be at the center of a GTA game!) opens the clip: “Lisa, you and I are gonna clean up this video game once and for all,” and the final scene of the ad shows a huge explosion with Marge walking away quietly, clearly the guilty party.

Mob Rules

 

Medal of Homer is equally fun, with Medal of Honor’s signature switching between scratchy black-and-white newsreel-style “historic footage” 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 “In 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, “Oo, look at me, I’m France. I’m a scared girl, I don’t like being bombed and attacked”].”

 

 

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. It’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 “video game street cred,” by suggesting that the game’s producers are as knowledgeable about the game world as are the television show’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 can’t help but conclude that my friend Jerry’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 Jerry’s best known for small observational humor. But the shorts aren’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 he’s trying to break out and try something new – entirely fair enough – 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, I’ll be playing the latter, and avoiding the former.

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  1. November 4th, 2007 at 20:45 | #1

    On kids’ TV, the Bee Movie spots are typical kids’ movie spots – footage & gags from the film. Clearly Dreamworks thought that Bee Movie could cross-over on the back of Jerry… and they were wrong, based on the first weekend’s box office.

    And as I understand it, these game parodies are part of the Simpsons Game itself, which is basically a string of meta-games framed in a story, and hysterical. I’m so there!

  2. November 4th, 2007 at 20:48 | #2

    Yes. I even hear Milhouse makes an appearance as the King of All Cosmos. Too cool

  1. November 15th, 2007 at 19:20 | #1