Cross-promotional marketing is nothing new, whether it’s a tie-in of Coca-Cola and Sony, Pepsi and Michael Jackson’s tour, or a national baseball team and the city’s grocery store chain, we are bombarded everywhere we go with not only that special product we didn’t know we needed, but also that seemingly unrelated product that some marketing whiz decided we also need.

Back in the late 1970s and 1980s it seemed like there was a constant battle for the best tie-in promotion between McDonald’s and Burger King.  For a while, the Star Wars franchise was tied into Burger King, introducing a giant size sticker folder, numerous trading cards (you’d need to cut out yourself), and probably the best drinking glasses anyone ever stamped a movie image on, for Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi

And they were made from actual glass no less.  They even brought the glass concept back in 2009 with the new Star Trek movie.

E.T. the Extraterrestrial (which also had glasses as giveaways at Pizza Hut) made waves by altering its own original story and tying Reese’s Pieces into the actual storyline instead of M&Ms.  At the opening night of the movie I remember everyone was given a free pack, totally taking you along with Elliot on his garage encounter with our new alien friend.  I don’t recall hearing of Reese’s Pieces before E.T.  The M&M guys blew an opportunity there no doubt.

Every year it seems products become more invasive in actual movies and TV shows.  Once upon a time product names were rearranged on TV shows so a Tide laundry detergent box, for example, had the same logo and design but carried a nondescript word.   Morley brand cigarettes, back to not just the X-Files, but as early as 1961 on The Dick Van Dyke Show, became the TV generic cigarette pack of choice, just as 555 became the area code of everyone in movie land.  Morley was Spike’s brand on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, has been seen on Burn Notice, Heroes, Medium, and even William Shatner’s brand in the classic Twilight Zone episode “Nightmare at Twenty Thousand Feet.”  But cigarette marketing bans aside, why use a fake brand when you can sell some ad space on your show?

Movie tie-ins are the subject of Hugo- and Nebula Award-winning author Connie Willis’s novel Remake.  The past is “in” and all the women dress in copies of famous Marilyn Monroe dresses and as other stars of classic Hollywood.  But in Remake, the future has arrived and censorship also is “in” and movie studios must edit ads and vices out of old films, essentially undoing all the marketing found in classics of the past. 

In its unabashed, in your face, greatness, no TV show today better uses cross promotional advertising than Subway on the TV series Chuck.  A typical episode has Morgan not just gulping down not just a sub, but a Subway sub and not only a Subway sub but this week’s selected menu sub of the week.  This doesn’t work on the serious drama, but on an off-the-wall genre show like Chuck, it just adds to the shows good-natured fun.  Points go to Chief Brenda Lee Johnson on The Closer.  Her temptation to dig into her drawer for the next Hostess Ding Dong really makes me want to grab the keys and head to the store.

What I find more annoying is cars on TV shows that focus on a car brand, from Claire’s Nissan Rogue in Heroes to the Oldsmobile Silhouette as the “Cadillac of minivans” in Get Shorty to the Ford Taurus conversations (“check out that Ford navigation system”) in White Collar.  That said, I don’t seem to have any issue with all the slick, high-end cars used by James Bond.  Probably because it actually serves to define the character’s wealthy lifestyle.

Subway and Green Lantern teamed up this movie season in a pretty standard ad campaign, with its own website, another current staple of cross-marketing (and even Doritos brand chips get to carry the Green Lantern campaign).  But there’s something not quite right with this campaign.  I don’t know a bigger guacamole fan than me, but spreading the avocado across all things Subway as part of its promotions this season seems a little stranger than usual.  Green is the color for ads this season and all products are apparently welcome.  Bring on the guacamole!

But the Green Lantern avocado is not the strangest thing appearing right now in cross promotions.  Most campaigns, including the Subway campaign, have some reasonable link between the products.  But the X-Men: First Class TV commercial with… Farmers Insurance (?) offers no explanation.  X-Men‘s audience would not seem to be a natural tie to trying to hook a family to a new casualty policy.  So what’s behind this campaign?  Here is one where I have no answer.  Check out the ad for yourself and let me know if you figure this one out:  Farmers X-Men TV commercial

But even this isn’t new.  Check out this old tie-in between the True Blood HBO series and GEICO.  These marketing guys must be on to something…let’s see, what else should we pair with mutants and vampires? 

C.J. Bunce