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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Air pollution: 5 steps to vanquishing an invisible killer

A new report looks at the economics of air pollution. 

110, 150, 520... These chilling statistics are the number of deaths attributable to particulate air pollution for the cities of Southampton, Nottingham and Birmingham in 2010 respectively. Or how about 40,000 - that is the total number of UK deaths per year that are attributable the combined effects of particulate matter (PM2.5) and Nitrogen Oxides (NOx).

This situation sucks, to say the very least. But while there are no dramatic images to stir up action, these deaths are preventable and we know their cause. Road traffic is the worst culprit. Traffic is responsible for 80 per cent of NOx on high pollution roads, with diesel engines contributing the bulk of the problem.

Now a new report by ResPublica has compiled a list of ways that city councils around the UK can help. The report argues that: “The onus is on cities to create plans that can meet the health and economic challenge within a short time-frame, and identify what they need from national government to do so.”

This is a diplomatic way of saying that current government action on the subject does not go far enough – and that cities must help prod them into gear. That includes poking holes in the government’s proposed plans for new “Clean Air Zones”.

Here are just five of the ways the report suggests letting the light in and the pollution out:

1. Clean up the draft Clean Air Zones framework

Last October, the government set out its draft plans for new Clean Air Zones in the UK’s five most polluted cities, Birmingham, Derby, Leeds, Nottingham and Southampton (excluding London - where other plans are afoot). These zones will charge “polluting” vehicles to enter and can be implemented with varying levels of intensity, with three options that include cars and one that does not.

But the report argues that there is still too much potential for polluters to play dirty with the rules. Car-charging zones must be mandatory for all cities that breach the current EU standards, the report argues (not just the suggested five). Otherwise national operators who own fleets of vehicles could simply relocate outdated buses or taxis to places where they don’t have to pay.  

Different vehicles should fall under the same rules, the report added. Otherwise, taking your car rather than the bus could suddenly seem like the cost-saving option.

2. Vouchers to vouch-safe the project’s success

The government is exploring a scrappage scheme for diesel cars, to help get the worst and oldest polluting vehicles off the road. But as the report points out, blanket scrappage could simply put a whole load of new fossil-fuel cars on the road.

Instead, ResPublica suggests using the revenue from the Clean Air Zone charges, plus hiked vehicle registration fees, to create “Pollution Reduction Vouchers”.

Low-income households with older cars, that would be liable to charging, could then use the vouchers to help secure alternative transport, buy a new and compliant car, or retrofit their existing vehicle with new technology.

3. Extend Vehicle Excise Duty

Vehicle Excise Duty is currently only tiered by how much CO2 pollution a car creates for the first year. After that it becomes a flat rate for all cars under £40,000. The report suggests changing this so that the most polluting vehicles for CO2, NOx and PM2.5 continue to pay higher rates throughout their life span.

For ClientEarth CEO James Thornton, changes to vehicle excise duty are key to moving people onto cleaner modes of transport: “We need a network of clean air zones to keep the most polluting diesel vehicles from the most polluted parts of our towns and cities and incentives such as a targeted scrappage scheme and changes to vehicle excise duty to move people onto cleaner modes of transport.”

4. Repurposed car parks

You would think city bosses would want less cars in the centre of town. But while less cars is good news for oxygen-breathers, it is bad news for city budgets reliant on parking charges. But using car parks to tap into new revenue from property development and joint ventures could help cities reverse this thinking.

5. Prioritise public awareness

Charge zones can be understandably unpopular. In 2008, a referendum in Manchester defeated the idea of congestion charging. So a big effort is needed to raise public awareness of the health crisis our roads have caused. Metro mayors should outline pollution plans in their manifestos, the report suggests. And cities can take advantage of their existing assets. For example in London there are plans to use electronics in the Underground to update travellers on the air pollution levels.

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Change is already in the air. Southampton has used money from the Local Sustainable Travel Fund to run a successful messaging campaign. And in 2011 Nottingham City Council became the first city to implement a Workplace Parking levy – a scheme which has raised £35.3m to help extend its tram system, upgrade the station and purchase electric buses.

But many more “air necessities” are needed before we can forget about pollution’s worry and its strife.  

 

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.