Commentary

Brandtique: 'Friday Night Lights,' Vaseline

This fall, DirecTV has been offering a season of NBC drama "Friday Night Lights" with no ads. It does, however, have a sponsor and frequently touts that the show is "brought to you commercial free by new Vaseline Men Lotion."

As a result, a tempting debate emerged from a recent episode: Did Vaseline subtly slide in perhaps not a commercial, but surely a plug?

Here's how it went down. Football player Landry Clarke (Jesse Plemons) is morose and finds himself in a classroom, where a female tries to cheer him up, tapping the keys on a piano and singing:

"I know a girl who thinks of ghosts

She'll make ya breakfast

She'll make ya toast

She don't use butter

She don't use cheese

She don't use jelly

Or any of these

She uses Vaseline

Vaseline

Vaseline"

She didn't make the hilarious lyrics up. They're from "She Don't Use Jelly," a 1994 hit from The Flaming Lips--described as an "idiosyncratic ... experimental rock band," also known for offbeat song names. The frequently covered "Jelly" is the group's most successful song to date.

The "FNL" appearance (one of the top product placements of the week, according to measurement firm iTVX) wasn't the first time the catchy, fun tune found its way onto a network drama. The band itself showed up on a "Beverly Hills, 90210" (the original) episode to sing it, prompting actor Ian Ziering's character to say: "I've never been a big fan of alternative music, but these guys rocked the house!"

The quirky song about quirky characters moves away from the Vaseline girl in verse one to a man who blows his nose with magazines, and then to a girl who dyes her hair with tangerines. Vaseline, magazines and tangerines ... a near rhyming trio.

Back to the "FNL" episode--after the piano rendition, the woman and Clarke later reunite as part of a garage rock trio. Both play the guitar and excitedly perform "Jelly." They're gleeful, reveling in the beat and lyrics.

"Jelly" is an exceedingly catchy, humorous, upbeat tune. The Flaming Lips' Web site says it's "a happy little ditty about strange people and their individual idiosyncrasies, with pretty melodies laced throughout."

After hearing it twice in the episode, it's sure to prompt viewers who know the song to sing it in the shower. And for those hearing it for the first time, perhaps some Web searches and eventual iTunes purchases.

Did Vaseline's sponsorship of the series somehow lead to the song's inclusion? Hard to believe it was a coincidence.

And while an impudent cynic might suggest that it stretches the credulity of a "commercial- free" pledge, a strict constructionist might respond that product/message placement is not really a commercial.

Even if there may be a gray line, Vaseline gets a pass. The underhanded promotion was a touchdown--cleverly conceived and splendidly executed. Whether "She Don't Use Jelly" translates into any sales increase for a new version of a brand once marketed as "Petroleum Jelly" is, of course, TBD.

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