My Spidey Sense Is Bingling
Marvel’s latest superhero movie, The Amazing Spider-Man, directed by the ideally named Marc Webb, swings into cinemas this week. Andrew Garfield has the requisite Secret Buffness (he looks gooood in the suit) and a lovely sense of athleticism (more like Peter Parkour, amirite?) and physical comedy. His onscreen chemistry with his now-offscreen girlfriend, Emma Stone, is much stronger than Tobey Maguire’s with the zoned-out-looking Kirsten Dunst.
Despite claims it would be a completely fresh revisioning of the character’s origin story, the plot is actually quite similar to Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man, and deteriorates into some bog-standard action setpieces familiar to anyone who’s ever watched a giant lizard hold a city to ransom… or, indeed, any supervillain.
But one of the immediately jarring elements is that when Peter Parker hits the, uh, Web to research his father’s shadowy colleague Dr Curt Connors (and later, spider bites), his search engine of choice is Bing.
Yes, Bing. Microsoft’s proprietary search engine, first introduced in 2009. The one that still runs a distant third to Google – although with 18.3 per cent of US web searches compared to Google’s 65.9 per cent, it’s gaining all the time.
Microsoft’s internet division is a disastrous drain on the company. In the nine months ending in March, it earned the company US$2.1 billion, or 3.8% of its total revenue, but lost US$1.45 billion – enough to wipe out the company’s profit for the quarter ending on 30 June.
Perhaps in an attempt to arrest this slump, Microsoft is notorious for its aggressive product placement in movies and TV. Jake Gyllenhaal’s character uses Bing in the film Source Code; so does Bruce Willis, that Timex watch in a digital world, in Red. It appears in How I Met Your Mother, The Vampire Diaries and, most hilariously, Hawaii Five-0:
This is brute-force product placement. Inserting the product into the plotline is a move towards naturalism, rather than realism – rather than reflecting ‘real life’, it aims to make something unnatural appear natural. It piggy-backs on the suspension of disbelief we already agree to when we sit down to watch superheroes, vampires, sci-fi spies and other unrealistic film characters.
But while Peter Parker’s use of Bing seems to jar with what we know about actual teenagers’ internet use, it’s actually quite subtle, considering the vast web of Spider-Brands and other official and unofficial tie-ins. (One missed opportunity for a travel partner: Webjet.)
Apple’s film and TV product placement is far more aggressive and extensive; iDevices appeared in more than 40 per cent of box-office-topping movies in 2011, which is nearly twice the penetration of any other brand. But this often goes unnoticed because Apple is a ‘cool’ brand that’s already used by many critics and tastemakers.
We think Bing’s smartest product placement was a direct, upfront appeal to the knowing, cool audiences who have so far shunned the search engine. Satirist Stephen Colbert was offered $2,500 to his Gulf oil spill charity fund for every time he mentioned Bing on his show. He managed 40 mentions within two minutes, raising $100,000. Colbert was given full creative rein to say whatever he wanted – which included this pearler:
“Bing is a great web site for doing internet searches. I know that, because I Googled it.”
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