Have you ever watched a film or TV show and thought “that’s a really terrible imitation of [brand we’re meant to recognise without it being the actual brand, which they can’t or won’t use for legal and/or commercial reasons]”, for example when a character gets a vague-looking beer out of their fridge or has Fakey-Flakes breakfast cereal on their kitchen table? I definitely have. Sometimes they’re atrocious, not much better than the deliberately generic Acme products in an old cartoon. Some of them are actually not terrible at all; occasionally they’re even quite witty. Real world discount supermarkets like Aldi and Lidl also specialise in these Brand X near-clones. One of the best ones I’ve seen recently was Lidl’s “Neos” (i.e. fake Oreos), whose name and packaging is so brazen I had to laugh at their audacity.
Of course it’s also remarkable and somewhat depressing to realise just how attuned, trained and indoctrinated most of us are to logos, branding and corporate identities. If we weren’t, we wouldn’t be disconcerted or find it funny when somebody does an imitation of these brands, alludes to them, puns with or satirises them.
It stands to reason that it’s somebody’s job to design and make these TV perfect simulacra of consumer goods. One of those somebodies is Independent Studio Services, who have a long list of film and television credits as background and practical prop suppliers. I’ve picked out just a few of their products. There are loads more of these on their site. If like me you’re a bit autistic about things like this, I warn you that following the link may lead to inexplicable episodes of missing time.
Here’s the best of the Acme Magazine Company’s publishing output. I don’t recall where, but I’m pretty certain I’ve seen Playpen in quite a few films or shows (let me know in the comments if you can confirm any sightings). The design and imitative typography is generally good here, apart from National Anthropology‘s green frame… but on the other hand, using National Geographic‘s bright yellow one would probably make it too close, especially if it was just seen fleetingly or in the background of a scene. If you look carefully you’ll note that these are absolutely rife with typos, missing apostrophes, and other mistakes: “Militarys Opinion”, “Lizette’s 101 fashion do’s and do not”, “They rather be in Philadelphia”, etc. [all sic]. But credit where credit’s due, especially since fake comics in the media tend to be particularly unconvincing; Hatman (from Marble Comics) is absolutely perfect in every way. Now I need a drink.
The first two (Bullish and Jack Danzel’s Kentucky Whiskey) are incredibly cheeky, right up there with calling your circular, sickly sweet white fondant-filled chocolate cookies Neos… and quite funny for the same reason. It’s as if they’re seeing precisely how close they can get to the tiger before it snaps around and bites their arm off. Cabot Cola is also pretty obvious, although with ever so slightly more of a concession to it being a completely fake brand rather than an obvious substitute for Red Bull or Jack Daniels. The last one on the far right, I have no idea what it’s meant to be. It might be something that’s sold in the USA, although I suspect it is actually meant to be a British brand of beer or ale or something. If so, trust me Americans, this is wrong. “Malt liquor” is wrong, the measurement in ounces is wrong because we– like everybody else in the world except North America– use the metric system now, and have done for a long time. It’s somewhat ironic, actually, that the USA is the last diehard user of the Imperial measurement system that even its imperial originators (i.e. the British) have mostly abandoned. And while we’re on the subject of having a tin ear for the nuances of foreign cultures:
Frozen “English Style Fish ‘n’ Chips”? I really hope this was used on a American comedy show that was knowingly making fun of the British, otherwise this is disastrously wrong. “Tit for Tat”, on the other hand, is inspired.
Americana Xpress is another absolutely shameless as-near-as-you-can-get-without-actually-being-it rip, Syscom Bank may (again) be playing on some US brand I’m not familiar with but it’s generic enough to be plausible, and as for International Bank of Thames… I’ll say again, somebody needs to look at a real British company’s branding. Thames is a river, not a place as such, definitely not a place that a bank would claim to be from, and if there’s a less British-sounding name than “Melody Wilder” I can’t think of it right now. Bonus points for the Vista name and logo, though.
Morley cigarettes are another (very cheeky and blatantly obvious) pseudo-brand that I’ve definitely seen in use. This list on Wikipedia tabulates dozens of appearances, perhaps most famously and prominently– as an occasional plot point, even– on The X Files, but also in Friends, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the various incarnations of CSI, and many more.
Try not to think about how desperately sad it is that about half a dozen people dedicated many hours of their lives to making that Wikipedia page.
Perhaps you could think instead about the possibility that Mulder and Scully and all the freaks and monsters they dealt with existed in the same Morley-smoking version of the 1990s as did Buffy, Chandler, Rachel, etc. In fact I’m sure some loser already has thought about it, at great length, and then wrote some really bad erotic fiction about it. Don’t do that.
And finally, a brand of tampons called… er, Tampon. This branding is bringing out the Peggy Olsen in me and it needs a bit more work, I think. You can’t bluntly call your brand what the actual product is, otherwise you’d just end up with whole aisles of different products by different manufacturers that are all called simply Cereal or Beer or Cigarettes. My favourite beer is Beer, and so on.
I’m 99% certain this prop was made by a man.