YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

'House of Cards,' or more like house of product placement?

10 lessons in advertising from a season of the Neflix series 'House of Cards'

May 03, 2013|By Matthew Fleischer
  • Kevin Spacey, sans Blackberry, in a scene from the Netflix original series, "House of Cards."
Kevin Spacey, sans Blackberry, in a scene from the Netflix original series,… (Melinda Sue Gordon / Netflix )

These are heady days for the online on-demand entertainment service Netflix. The company’s stock recently surged 22% after a strong earnings report and news that it signed up 2 million new subscribers in the first quarter of the year. The company’s success has largely been credited to its move into original content -- particularly its political drama “House of Cards.”

With David Fincher on the creative team, the show follows the political trials and travails of mercenary Democratic House whip Frank Underwood and his equally mercenary wife Claire. Is the story a morality study on the price of extreme hubris? Of ethical cowardice? Of unrestrained ambition?


But after watching all 13 episodes, one can’t help but get the feeling that this is also a show about product placement. A total of 2 million new subscribers is all well and good, but is that enough to cover “House of Cards’” reported $100-million price tag?

PHOTOS: Hollywood Backlot moments

In its show credits, "House of Cards" offers no disclosures of any product placement it may benefit from -- noting only that logos for products like Sony's Playstation Vita were "used with permission." A Netflix spokesperson says its company had no product placement deals in place. A spokesperson for "House of Cards" production company Media Rights Capital said the company does not comment on any element of production.

What if there is no product placement? Could the show's brand-happyiness simply be Fincherian subtext?


Nonetheless, here are 10 of our favorite subtextual life lessons gleaned from a season of watching "House of Cards."

Not only should you consider this a spoiler alert, but note that none of the following will make any sense unless you’ve watched the entire first season of the show.

PHOTOS: Celebrities by The Times

1. Smart spunky women and artsy types use iPhones. Powerful men need a Blackberry.

They’re smart, they’re sexy, they can break a big story at the touch of a button. They’re the women of “House of Cards” and virtually all of them have iPhones on their person at all times. Reporter Zoe Barnes gets her powerful male boss fired with a tweet from her iPhone. Claire, meanwhile, arranges illicit rendezvous with lovers and lobbyists. Don’t mess with these women when they have an iPhone present. You won’t like the results.

To be a man, on the other hand -- a real man, anyway -- you’re going to need a Blackberry. Like Gogol’s lost nose, being without your Blackberry for even a moment is the virtual equivalent of castration.

At season’s close, Frank makes the tragic mistake of leaving his Blackberry behind for a few precious moments of nuptial bliss with his wife Claire. While he’s out, a huge story breaks that threatens his ascension to the vice presidency.

Peter Russo, meanwhile, alienates his constituents, struggles with drug and alcohol abuse, and is generally incompetent. But his real kiss of death is throwing his Blackberry out the window of his car. He was killed shortly thereafter, and deserved everything he had coming to him.

Blackberry: glue it your body or die horribly.

PHOTOS: Tech we want to see in 2013

2. Mutually satisfying sex is impossible without a brand name mobile device somewhere in the immediate vicinity of your person.

Reporter Zoe Barnes, played by the lovely Kate Mara, has six on-screen sexual encounters (or implied sexual encounters) throughout the season. A mobile phone was present for four of them – and by present, we actually mean involved, sometimes intimately. Naturally, she had a blast, and/or an emotionally fulfilling time.  

Barnes’ two encounters with no phone? Let’s just say she was displeased.

3. The couple that smokes together, stays together.

Yes, your iPhone/Blackberry bestows you with extraordinary sexual prowess. But sex is such shallow and ephemeral relational bellwether. The true hallmark of a stable relationship is cigarettes. Of course all relationships have their ups and downs. But that’s nothing sharing a nightly cigarette together out your bay window won’t fix.  

Whether he’s off sleeping with journalists or sacrificing his colleagues' careers to further his own ambitions, Frank always returns home to share a nightly cigarette with his wife Claire. Sure, she may have the occasional fling with an artsy iPhone user. But artsy iPhone users don’t smoke with her, so she always comes home.

Also of note, some worthy advice from Frank: “Never slap a man while he’s chewing tobacco!”

ON LOCATION: Where the cameras roll

4. Pork: not only is it the other white meat, it’s the meat of billionaires and political power players.

Los Angeles Times Articles