Google paid HOW MUCH for marketing in "The Internship"?

Fred Crawley's jaw drops.

As a journalist, one of the most irritating things that can happen to you is to be asked, after half an hour of interviewing a senior figure in a company, when they will get to see your copy before it goes to print.

Not "if", but "when": there is an implicit assumption that, in exchange for a few minutes of a CEO or Chairman’s time, anything you choose to write about a business has become that company’s intellectual property.

"Just in case there are any factual errors in the copy", they say, demonstrating solid respect for your ability. But make the mistake of emailing a draft and it will come back with "errors" like "the market’s third-biggest provider of x by business volume" corrected to "a market leading provider of x solutions".

It used to be the case – or so I am reliably informed by colleagues who cut their teeth in the "good old days" of business reporting – that companies only ever expected approval over page space they had expressly paid cash to own, i.e. advertisements.

Now, the predominance of PR, and the business world’s collective obsession with reputation, have changed the terms of that arrangement. To large companies, time and even willingness to speak to journalists has become a commodity for which a price – authorial integrity – must be paid.

Given this context, imagine the groaning and rolling of eyes when I discovered that not only did Google enjoy massive exposure and final say over the portrayal of its company and products in Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn’s summer comedy The Internship, but it didn’t pay a bloody penny for the privilege.

When I first saw an advert for the movie (plot summary: two blokes with immensely likable faces become unemployed and scam their way into Google internships), I was astonished: the company logo, in all its merry primary colours, was splashed across the very centre of the poster. "how much did they pay for that?" I exclaimed, my voice climbing to the Meldrew Octave.

The answer, I discovered, after trawling for information using market-leading search provider Google, was that the enormous marketing boon had been delivered in exchange for five days of shooting time at Mountain View, 100 free extras, and extensive consultation on what it means to be a "Googler" (please find me a sick bag).

What’s more, the whole idea was ostensibly Vaughn’s, and not Google’s.  A movie star offered to make a 2 hour advert for Google, over which it had creative control, in exchange for a paltry handful of its mountainous resources. And right when Google’s "don’t be evil" reputation needed a shot in the arm, too.

OK, this wasn’t a piece of journalism, and it hardly had the potential to be biting satire either, with or without giving Google a say over the final cut. But when the grievously offensive jokes made by many comedians are grudgingly pardoned for the reason that comedy is sacrosanct to censorship, does it not seem monumentally weak that one of the major comedy releases of the year has been scripted according to the whims of a software company?

In this instance, we’ve only lost the edge from what would have been a low-key feel-good comedy at best. But, although I think the "slippery slope" argument is usually just a poor excuse for hyperbole, it seems hard to ignore the miserable precedent this sets for the role of advertising in media.

Owen Wilson stars in The Internship. Photograph: Getty Images

By day, Fred Crawley is editor of Credit Today and Insolvency Today. By night, he reviews graphic novels for the New Statesman.

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Why the Liberal Democrats by-election surge is not all it seems

The Lib Dems chalked up impressive results in Stoke and Copeland. But just how much of a fight back is it?

By the now conventional post-Brexit logic, Stoke and Copeland ought to have been uniquely inhospitable for the Lib Dems. 

The party lost its deposit in both seats in 2015, and has no representation on either council. So too were the referendum odds stacked against it: in Stoke, the so-called Brexit capital of Britain, 70 per cent of voters backed Leave last June, as did 62 per cent in Copeland. And, as Stephen has written before, the Lib Dems’ mini-revival has so far been most pronounced in affluent, Conservative-leaning areas which swung for remain. 

So what explains the modest – but impressive – surges in their vote share in yesterday’s contests? In Stoke, where they finished fifth in 2015, the party won 9.8 per cent of the vote, up 5.7 percentage points. They also more than doubled their vote share in Copeland, where they beat Ukip for third with 7.3 per cent share of the vote.

The Brexit explanation is a tempting and not entirely invalid one. Each seat’s not insignificant pro-EU minority was more or less ignored by most of the national media, for whom the existence of remainers in what we’re now obliged to call “left-behind Britain” is often a nuance too far. With the Prime Minister Theresa May pushing for a hard Brexit and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn waving it through, Lib Dem leader Tim Farron has made the pro-EU narrative his own. As was the case for Charles Kennedy in the Iraq War years, this confers upon the Lib Dems a status and platform they were denied as the junior partners in coalition. 

While their stance on Europe is slowly but surely helping the Lib Dems rebuild their pre-2015 demographic core - students, graduates and middle-class professionals employed in the public sector – last night’s results, particularly in Stoke, also give them reason for mild disappointment. 

In Stoke, campaign staffers privately predicted they might manage to beat Ukip for second or third place. The party ran a full campaign for the first time in several years, and canvassing returns suggested significant numbers of Labour voters, mainly public sector workers disenchanted with Corbyn’s stance on Europe, were set to vote Lib Dem. Nor were they intimidated by the Brexit factor: recent council by-elections in Sunderland and Rotheram, which both voted decisively to leave, saw the Lib Dems win seats for the first time on massive swings. 

So it could well be argued that their candidate, local cardiologist Zulfiqar Ali, ought to have done better. Staffordshire University’s campus, which Tim Farron visited as part of a voter registration drive, falls within the seat’s boundaries. Ali, unlike his Labour competitor Gareth Snell and Ukip leader Paul Nuttall, didn’t have his campaign derailed or disrupted by negative media attention. Unlike the Tory candidate Jack Brereton, he had the benefit of being older than 25. And, like 15 per cent of the electorate, he is of Kashmiri origin.  

In public and in private, Lib Dems say the fact that Stoke was a two-horse race between Labour and Ukip ultimately worked to their disadvantage. The prospect of Nuttall as their MP may well have been enough to convince a good number of the Labour waverers mentioned earlier to back Snell. 

With his party hovering at around 10 per cent in national polls, last night’s results give Farron cause for optimism – especially after their near-wipeout in 2015. But it’s easy to forget the bigger picture in all of this. The party have chalked up a string of impressive parliamentary by-election results – second in Witney, a spectacular win in Richmond Park, third in Sleaford and Copeland, and a strong fourth in Stoke. 

However, most of these results represent a reversion to, or indeed an underperformance compared to, the party’s pre-2015 norm. With the notable exception of Richmond’s Sarah Olney, who only joined the Lib Dems after the last general election, these candidates haven’t - or the Lib Dem vote - come from nowhere. Zulfiqar Ali previously sat on the council in Stoke and had fought the seat before, and Witney’s Liz Leffman and Sleaford’s Ross Pepper are both popular local councillors. And for all the excited commentary about Richmond, it was, of course, held by the Lib Dems for 13 years before Zac Goldsmith won it for the Tories in 2010. 

The EU referendum may have given the Lib Dems a new lease of life, but, as their #LibDemFightback trope suggests, they’re best understood as a revanchist, and not insurgent, force. Much has been said about Brexit realigning our politics, but, for now at least, the party’s new normal is looking quite a lot like the old one.