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.

Photo: Getty Images
Show Hide image

We don't need to build more prisons - we need to send fewer people there

The government talks a good game on prisons - but at the moment, the old failed policies hold sway

Some years ago the Howard League set up an independent expert review of what should happen to the penal system. We called it Do better, do less.

Too many governments have come in with enthusiasm for doing more, in the mistaken belief that this means better. We have ended up with more prisons, more prisoners, a bulging system that costs a fortune and blights lives. It is disappointing that the new regime appears to have fallen into the same old trap.

It is a big mistake to imagine that the justice system can be asked to sort out people’s lives. Prisons rarely, very rarely, turn people into model citizens able to get a great job and settle with a family. It is naïve to think that building huge new prisons with fewer staff but lots of classrooms will help to ‘rehabilitate’ people.

Let’s turn this on its head. There are more than 80,000 men in prison at any one time, and 40,000 of them are serving long sentences. Simply giving them a few extra courses or getting them to do a bit more work at £10 a week means they are still reliant on supplementary funding from families. Imagine you are the wife or partner of a man who is serving five to ten years. Why should you welcome him back to your home and your bed after all that time if you have hardly been able to see him, you got one phone call a week, and he’s spent all those years in a highly macho environment?

The message of new prisons providing the answer to all our problems has been repeated ad nauseam. New Labour embarked on a massive prison-building programme with exactly the same message that was trotted out in the Spending Review today – that new buildings will solve all our problems. Labour even looked at selling off Victorian prisons but found it too complicated as land ownership is opaque. It is no surprise that, despite trumpeting the sell-off of Victorian prisons, the one that was announced was in fact a jail totally rebuilt in the 1980s, Holloway.

The heart of the problem is that too many people are sent to prison, both on remand and under sentence. Some 70 per cent of the people remanded to prison by magistrates do not get a prison sentence and tens of thousands get sentenced to a few weeks or months. An erroneous diagnosis of the problem has led to expensive and ineffective policy responses. I am disappointed that yet again the Ministry of Justice is apparently embarking on expansion instead of stemming the flow into the system.

A welcome announcement is the court closure programme and investment in technology. Perhaps, in the end, fewer courts will choke the flow of people into the system, but I am not optimistic.

It is so seductive for well-meaning ministers to want to sort out people’s lives. But this is not the way to do it. Homeless people stealing because they are hungry (yes, it is happening more and more) are taking up police and court time and ending up in prison. We all know that mentally ill people comprise a substantial proportion of the prison population. It is cheaper, kinder and more efficacious to invest in front line services that prevent much of the crime that triggers a criminal justice intervention.

That does leave a cohort of men who have committed serious and violent crime and will be held in custody for public safety reasons. This is where I agree with recent announcements that prison needs to be transformed. The Howard League has developed a plan for this, allowing long-term prisoners to work and earn a real wage.

The spending review was an opportunity to do something different and to move away from repeating the mistakes of the past. There is still time; we have a radical Justice Secretary whose rhetoric is redemptive and compassionate. I hope that he has the courage of these convictions.

Frances Crook is the Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform.