I never actually got to experience the film-as-commercial-break part of the project because, well, my streaming (and my Video-on-Demand, and my live cable viewing) just showed regular commercials. Having anticipated the Hyundai O.C., I was more than a little aggravated by the Target commercial I ended up watching 6 times. But I eventually tracked down the short in the Legends extra features section of TNTDrama.com. Here’s the link so you don’t have to bang your head into a wall trying to find it like I did.
The Genesis was supposedly sectioned off between chunks of Legends, but I can’t attest to how it was broken up, having watched it in one piece separately (following, of course, a regular Hyundai advertisement.) The connecting link between the show and the short is, no surprise here, the Hyundai Genesis. The star of Legends (a not-dead Sean Bean) drives one, and there are generous shots of him driving around in it and it lingering in the background. And sometimes the foreground. Hey, that’s what a whole bunch of Hyundai money’ll buy you. Legends, by the way, is about a deep-undercover government agent who transforms himself over and over for his job. It’s very typical sturdy crime drama fare. Why choose this show to air your original content sci-fi advertisement? Hype and high projected viewer numbers. There is zero thematic connection between Legends and Genesis. Except, of course, the Hyundai Genesis.So what about the short itself? Well, it wasn’t good. Actually, let’s not mince words here: it was bad. Really bad.
The official synopsis for Genesis: “In this exclusive short film, an intrepid man protects his wife with the help of a Hyundai Genesis.” This summary tells me exactly nothing besides giving me the hope that the film is about a sentient talking Hyundai Genesis, maybe with a sassy streak. (Spoiler alert: it’s not. Sad face.)
Here’s a brief rundown of the actual plot: a woman (Ione Butler) is possibly sick, possibly in a hospital or maybe a villainous corporate laboratory. A bald man with glasses is in charge and possibly evil. The woman’s husband (Nick Apostolides) breaks her out by shooting some ray guns (possibly?) and, after a long action-packed chase sequence, possibly kills the bald guy. Also, it turns out the woman’s blood could possibly save the world. I’m not just being facetious here; it’s all really that vague. And not vague in the good sci-fi ask-more-questions-than-you-answer way. Just vague, in the not-very-well-developed way.The real point of the film is to showcase the Hyundai Genesis, which can not only shoot sleeping gas out of its trunk, but can be driven in circles so tight it will cause a pair of pursing aircraft to crash into each other headfirst. But I’m not here to bash Hyundai’s attempt at “advertainment”, the mot du jour for corporate-produced original content that seeks to blur the line between, you guessed it, advertising and entertainment. Even if The Genesis was a pile of smelly garbage boogers. Which it was. But that’s not the point.
(Note–I’ve been trying all day to figure out why the film was called The Genesis. Where in the plot was the genesis? Then I realized, nowhere. The Genesis literally refers to the Hyundai Genesis. The titular star of the film.)
Instead I’d rather take a moment to look constructively at where Hyundai went wrong, and how future forms of advertainment might better succeed. Because they can, in fact, be successful. Chipotle’s original comedy for Hulu, Farmed and Dangerous, which we covered in March, proved a step in the right direction, as did Ford’s web series Escape My Life. It’s easy to see the increase in advertainment as a looming villain, threatening to bastardize the purity of TV and film with its evil corporate agenda. But I like to look at it the other way: as the possibility, however distant, that someday I won’t want to fast-forward through my commercials.
Besides, it’s not like we aren’t getting bombarded with product placement already. Legends’ Hyundai placements only ranks about a medium on the subtlety scale; other shows indulge much more heavily, especially on premium cable channels or Netflix where there isn’t any traditional advertising in the first place. So why shouldn’t entertainment–real, programmed entertainment–be as much a part of advertising as advertising is of programmed entertainment?
To my estimation, there are four key parts to good advertainment (which we shall define as a piece of programming that works equally well on both ad and entertainment fronts):
1. Quality writing. Ads and television shows have one thing in common: they necessitate good writing. Without a solid script, no amount of production or development is going to sell us on a program. And good writing starts with good ideas. Genesis, which toted itself as a “sci-fi film,” hardly had any science fiction at all, save for those ray gun things and a fancy looking blood transfusion doohickey. Its big reveal, that the woman’s mystery condition gives her blood healing properties, had no real forethought and no apparent consequences. It’s a cheap approximation of what a non-sci-fi fan might imagine to be typical science-fiction fare, and really, if you’re trying to reach that audience, you ought to know better.
2. Production quality. This doesn’t necessarily mean big budget, but it does mean a budget to achieve the kind of quality regular programmed entertainment of that genre could have. Genesis‘s iMovie effects were about a half-step away from including pew-pew mouth-gun sounds. Entertainment is supposed to be escapist, and it’s hard to escape when you can’t help seeing the cardboard scenery.
3. Minimal product exposure. Look, I know it’s supposed to be half advertisement, but if every other sentence is an endorsement of your product it’s gonna lose out on the entertainment side. Play it cool. Corporate sponsorship is advertising in and of itself. Anything beyond that falls into trying-too-hard territory, and if there’s one thing guaranteed to turn off an audience, it’s trying too hard.
4. Think factor. This is the hard part, and it’s hard to be specific about what exactly this entails beyond a certain je-ne-sais-quoi. But advertainment, moreso than regular entertainment, must give us something to chew on after it ends. The easiest move is comedy, because if it’s truly funny it has endless replay potential. Hyundai also made a smart choice by trying for science fiction (What other genre leaves us as much room for philosophizing?) but failed when it came to actually having something interesting to say. Because in the end I’m never going to walk away from a program thinking about the product, nor do I want to. A month after watching Genesis, I’m never going to think, “Man, a Hyundai Genesis is a cool car! What was the plot of that show with it again?” I’m gonna think, “Man, that was a cool show! Who made that again? Oh right, Hyundai Genesis!” That’s just as an example, though. I’m never going to think that about The Genesis.
Frankly, I’m not hopeful that we’ll start seeing a wealth of quality advertainment anytime soon. There’s way too much emphasis on the advertising part of if right now (which, yes, makes sense, since it’s the advertisers who are producing it, but still, you guys). For this to really work, those advertisers need to abandon all their hard-drilled notions of what makes an ad work and start focusing on what makes entertainment work. If you want to make advertainment, you’d better put the priority on actually entertaining.
You can watch The Genesis on TNTDrama.com. I guess.