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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Brexit is teaching the UK that it needs immigrants

Finally forced to confront the economic consequences of low migration, ministers are abandoning the easy rhetoric of the past.

Why did the UK vote to leave the EU? For conservatives, Brexit was about regaining parliamentary sovereignty. For socialists it was about escaping the single market. For still more it was a chance to punish David Cameron and George Osborne. But supreme among the causes was the desire to reduce immigration.

For years, as the government repeatedly missed its target to limit net migration to "tens of thousands", the EU provided a convenient scapegoat. The free movement of people allegedly made this ambition unachievable (even as non-European migration oustripped that from the continent). When Cameron, the author of the target, was later forced to argue that the price of leaving the EU was nevertheless too great, voters were unsurprisingly unconvinced.

But though the Leave campaign vowed to gain "control" of immigration, it was careful never to set a formal target. As many of its senior figures knew, reducing net migration to "tens of thousands" a year would come at an economic price (immigrants make a net fiscal contribution of £7bn a year). An OBR study found that with zero net migration, public sector debt would rise to 145 per cent of GDP by 2062-63, while with high net migration it would fall to 73 per cent. For the UK, with its poor productivity and sub-par infrastructure, immigration has long been an economic boon. 

When Theresa May became Prime Minister, some cabinet members hoped that she would abolish the net migration target in a "Nixon goes to China" moment. But rather than retreating, the former Home Secretary doubled down. She regards the target as essential on both political and policy grounds (and has rejected pleas to exempt foreign students). But though the same goal endures, Brexit is forcing ministers to reveal a rarely spoken truth: Britain needs immigrants.

Those who boasted during the referendum of their desire to reduce the number of newcomers have been forced to qualify their remarks. On last night's Question Time, Brexit secretary David Davis conceded that immigration woud not invariably fall following Brexit. "I cannot imagine that the policy will be anything other than that which is in the national interest, which means that from time to time we’ll need more, from time to time we’ll need less migrants."

Though Davis insisted that the government would eventually meet its "tens of thousands" target (while sounding rather unconvinced), he added: "The simple truth is that we have to manage this problem. You’ve got industry dependent on migrants. You’ve got social welfare, the national health service. You have to make sure they continue to work."

As my colleague Julia Rampen has charted, Davis's colleagues have inserted similar caveats. Andrea Leadsom, the Environment Secretary, who warned during the referendum that EU immigration could “overwhelm” Britain, has told farmers that she recognises “how important seasonal labour from the EU is to the everyday running of your businesses”. Others, such as the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, the Business Secretary, Greg Clark, and the Communities Secretary, Sajid Javid, have issued similar guarantees to employers. Brexit is fuelling immigration nimbyism: “Fewer migrants, please, but not in my sector.”

The UK’s vote to leave the EU – and May’s decision to pursue a "hard Brexit" – has deprived the government of a convenient alibi for high immigration. Finally forced to confront the economic consequences of low migration, ministers are abandoning the easy rhetoric of the past. Brexit may have been caused by the supposed costs of immigration but it is becoming an education in its benefits.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.