Product Placement Problems

Back when I worked at a top LA graphics service bureau around 1990 or so, I got a job from one of our regular customers, an independent designer. He produced product packaging with Adobe Illustrator and he did a lot of expensive large format Iris inkjet output. One day I load up his new Iris job, and what the hell is this? I’m looking at detailed flexography stencils for 7up, Dr. Pepper, Pepsi, and Coke bottles. Except the logos in this comp are not placed on pop bottles, they’re on baby bottles. Now hold it just a minute. I philosophically and morally object to putting a corporate logo 2 inches from a 1 day old infant’s eyes. I wouldn’t want a child’s first visual experience when their eyes begin to focus to be a huge Coke or 7Up logo with a nipple on it. AND, at this very time, there was a huge boycott of Nestle over baby formula problems in third world countries, and soda pop bottlers were accused of involvement in widespread infant malnutrition. Mothers who couldn’t find clean water to make infant formula were using 7Up and other soda instead of water. Infants were often fed straight sugary and caffeinated soda pop with the formula, and it had horrible health effects on the very young infants. And the more I thought about this job, the more reasons I could find to loathe it, I would not participate in producing anything related to this product. So I took this job-from-hell straight to the boss and showed it to him. I said I am NOT doing this job. He heard my objections, and he was pretty horrified when he stopped to think about it. So my boss called the designer and told him to get down to the shop, we wanted to talk to him. I ran his job up on my screen, brought him in to look at it (like we often did when customers watched Iris jobs run) and then I started yelling at him, what the hell is this? I told him that we had certain standards, we didn’t work on porn, and we didn’t do obscene jobs like this. I stated in no uncertain terms that this was the sickest thing anyone had ever submitted to our shop, and I told him why. He seemed astonished, the more I explained my objections to this product, the more horrified a look he got on his face. He took a moment, and then told me this was not for mass production, it was a one-off unique item, it was to be used as a prop in a movie scene, to poke fun at someone who would feed soda pop to infants. I told him I would hold his job and consider printing it if he was really telling me the truth, but still I thought he was lying. And besides, if he put this image in the mass media, it would probably influence people to want to purchase the real Coke and 7Up baby bottles. He said I should not worry about it, the film was crap and sure to flop, hardly anyone would see the bottle. I was not feeling any better about this job. I took it to the boss, who eventually made the decision to go ahead and print, but only after another long phone call with the client.
So about 6 months later, I am in the checkout line at some big department store, and standing right next to the counter, what do I see? A big display rack of 7Up, Coke, Dr. Pepper, and other assorted plastic baby bottles. Lying bastard designer! Fortunately about this time quit and I moved to San Francisco and went to work at a better prepress shop, with fewer scumbag clients like that, we typeset stuff like RE:Search books, Rainforest Action Network pamphlets, etc, I was a much happier graphics geek.

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