Ioana Bidian • Marti, 12.09.2023
"Travels with My Father" is a British comedy series made by Netflix, structured as a reality show combined with a travelogue, in which Jack Whitehall travels with his father, Michael, around the world, trying to create a closer bond between them. Jack and his father, Michael, make for an interesting duo; the son is jovial, while the father is a true British curmudgeon. The experiences during their journey often create a comedic dynamic between the two.
Michael Whitehall was born during World War II, which may explain his passion for Churchill, his classic British style of dressing, and his strong attachment to daily routines. He is an old-fashioned aristocrat who, throughout the episodes, is "forced" to open his mind and try new experiences. He has dry humour, and sometimes, some of his remarks could be perceived as offensive, even racist, but somehow, you can't get too upset with him, and you end up liking him and seeing him as the true star of the show.
You could say that Jack Whitehall lacks respect for his father, acts like an adolescent, and is immature, unless you consider that he is a young man trying to get his father's attention and approval, just like any "child" trying to get attention positively or negatively. As long as there's attention, it's enough. His desire to "push the envelope" with the situations he puts his father in is just a way to show his father that life can be lived differently. The way he mocks his father's passions might come across as mean-spirited, but it's clear that these situations were well-documented beforehand.
"Travels With My Father" can be viewed as a travel documentary, but its main purpose is not to promote the countries they visit. It's more of a platform for presenting facts, characters, places, and sometimes absurd situations, often comical ones. It's a pleasant, relaxing series, but it doesn't give you reasons to revisit it. I did take away a few references or aspirational destinations, but not necessarily as must-visit places for future travels. Many of the featured destinations were chosen more for their absurdity and to create comedic situations and tease the passions of the two travellers.
And now, you're probably wondering what the connection to wine is.
Several aspects caught my attention, most likely due to the coincidences between my daily professional interests and watching the series as a way to unwind after days of research.
First of all, I was struck by the two generations, one of which is the most targeted and followed for consumer habits—Millennials—and the Silent Generation, defined by their traditionalism. It's hard to believe that a comedy series can provide answers about consumer habits, but I watched all the episodes more closely after this "discovery."
The first scene that caught my attention was in the first episode, a trip to Bangkok, Thailand, where during dinner at a panoramic restaurant, the two discuss their desires for experiences: giving up dinner at the restaurant in favour of street food, ditching champagne for drinking from a bucket. The differences in their approach to travel are evident throughout the series; Jack's desire for exploration is often curbed and sometimes completely cancelled out by his father.
The second surprise was the second season in which father and son travel from Germany to Hungary, Romania, Moldova, Ukraine, and Turkey, The second season follows the scenario of the first season, where the chosen places and situations are equally unusual and comical.
Their journey in Romania is limited to Transylvania, which is Michael's choice, while Moldova is Jack's choice.
The context in which I watched the series is related to my professional curiosity about wine marketing in general, promoting wine as a country brand, and the strategy for promoting a product in the context of the entertainment market.
Placing the story and action in a specific and easily identifiable location, much like product placement in movies, is known as an effective practice for achieving favourable attitude and behaviour responses from viewers. Placed in a film, such materials are often much more effective than conventional commercials because when incorporated into the narrative on screen, viewers have a reduced critical thinking disposition towards them. Unlike traditional advertising breaks, the audience cannot avoid exposure to commercial materials within the entertainment content; this is the main difference between a commercial and the placement of "promotional content" in a film (Redondo, 2006; Redondo and Bernal, 2016). "Promotional Content" produces a higher behavioural response in the audience when incorporated into entertainment content than when it is displayed as conventional advertising, with all places, things, and actions equally represented in the film.
Entertainment content can make the audience experience intense emotions that reduce their resistance to rejecting or accepting the embedded commercial material and processing it uncritically as if it were non-commercial content.
Product placement in a film has an immediate effect on viewers' brand choices, and the size of such an effect increases depending on certain characteristics of the promotional stimulus: a higher proportion of viewers are convinced when the brand is presented more frequently/extensively in the film (Matthes and Naderer, 2015; Brown et al., 2017) when the film's characters interact with the brand (Naderer et al., 2018), when the negative effects of consuming the brand are not shown (Redondo, 2012), and when brand placement is accompanied by conventional brand advertising during advertising breaks (Uribe and Fuentes-García, 2015).
Wine consumption is often portrayed unrealistically in movies, as an aspirational activity that intelligent, popular, attractive characters engage in predominantly enjoyable situations, as a lifestyle. The more consumers are exposed to this portrayal of wine, the more likely they are to perceive it as something consumed only by certain social categories, only on certain occasions, and only by those with knowledge of wine.
Returning to the film.
Although both countries, Romania and Moldova, are producers of wine, surprisingly, or perhaps not..., it is only Moldova that is consolidating its image as a wine-producing country in the film, with a classic, traditional approach to serving and presenting wine. Only one Moldovan wine brand, the "Mileștii Mici" Quality Wine Combine, appears in the film. The "advertising content" dedicated to Moldovan wine is probably the longest in all episodes of the series, with over 50% of the episode dedicated to it, featuring 5 moments of explicit promotion. The first is the presentation of the country as an exporter of wine, the second is the presentation of the winery, followed by a scene in a restaurant where Michael praises both the wine and the people of Moldova, then a wine-tasting scene for two with a strong promotional message, in which Michael responds to the question "Red or white?" with "Red, white, I don't care, as long as it's Moldovan." Cheers, to Moldovan Wine," and a final appearance where Valeriu, the promoter of Mileștii Mici wine, travels to Istanbul and accompanies Michael on a boat where he celebrates his birthday with Moldovan sparkling wine. All the experiences of the episode revolve around and are enjoyed by Michael, while Jack is more of a disinterested observer, uninterested in the "traditional, classic" aspects of wine tasting and service.
The journey of the two in Romania is presented in episodes 2 and 3 and can be seen as offensive if not viewed in the context of the series. Michael, who is a British royalist and an admirer of Prince Charles - at the time of filming, he was only the Prince of Wales - tries to discover his fascination with Transylvania.
The presentation of Transylvania, with characteristic humour, is rural and rustic, preserving its authentic old traditions and culture, and its inhabitants cultivate their plants and raise animals for their own food. I believe the script follows some of Prince Charles's statements, who stated that what brings him to Romania is the "unspoiled rural landscape of Transylvania," "you, my Romanian friends; the cultural and natural heritage, the traditions." "The rest of us have something to learn from these cultivated landscapes of Transylvania. They have spiritual, social, economic, and ecological significance. Does all of this matter in today's cynical times when there is the so-called obsession with efficiency and convenience? Yes, it matters, because the essence is in these landscapes where people still live in harmony with nature."
The journey of the two in Australia brings wine back to the forefront, this time consumed by Jack in entirely new ways, without regard for tradition, classicism, correctness, or service rules. The wine tasting in Sydney is a social event in which wine serves only as a bond between participants, and the wine story is merely a pretext to participate and connect with others. Jack shows no desire to learn more about wine, starting with consuming mints before tasting and mixing the contents of the glasses to create an "ad-hoc" blend from all the white wines in the glasses, with the excuse "white wine is just white wine." The theme of wine consumed unconventionally appears in the form of wine bottled in a bag in a box, actually, just the bag taken out of the box and consumed directly from the bag. Michael looks at it all with disdain and reproaches Jack: "When I taught you about the finest red and white wines in the world, you're chugging from a bag." Jack's reply supports the wine, "It's a traditional Australian bag, and I'm sipping traditional Australian culture. That's why I won't drink from a bottle; I'll sip straight from the bag." The bag of wine and Jack's insistence on convincing Michael eventually exasperate him to the point where he categorises Australian wine, at least the one in the bag, as disgusting.
The characteristics of the film lead viewers to experience the narrative thread, identify with the characters, and share a certain intimacy with them by engaging in their thoughts and emotions, seeing them as role models, and imitating their attitudes and consumption behaviours while becoming familiar with the events and locations.
The two approaches to wine consumption, as well as those of attachment to a country brand, are evident in the series. Viewers can easily identify with one of the protagonists and emulate their preferences for any of the consumption methods. Interestingly, there's a message of tolerance and acceptance of each other's preferences, even in situations where there are major differences in perception and no desire to be exposed to new experiences that do not align with personal values.
By projecting thousands of films each year, the film industry and streaming channels have become a medium with maximum potential to capture and convert audiences into potential consumers or to influence consumption methods and directions. "Promotional content" placed in films and entertainment shows reaches a broader audience and has a much longer life than a 30-second advertisement.
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