A Brief History Of Product Placement in Film
Recognizable brand and product names have appeared in movies from cinema's earliest history. There has therefore always been a relationship between Film and Advertising, although there are both paid placements and non paid placements. Basic product placement is when a logo can be seen but nobody draws actual attention to it, advanced placement is when its acknowledged. nearly every film has some sort of product placement, be it for prop and set needs or funding.
Then of course we have Faux placements...you know the ones, where a character brings obvious attention to a logo or brand, breaking the fourth wall, looking at the camera and smiling when holding said brand. Waynes World is probably the most well known for this, but many films have done the same sort of thing.
Product Placements That are Actually Clever...(and will get much more attention)
Before jumping into the most annoying, invasive, blatant product placements in film, I feel its better to start with the best of product placement in film. When films actually think through how they insert the advertisement, find new ways of promoting business' and don't just shove a logo or sign in the scene, it makes for amazing results when done right.
The Most Obvious being Cast Away and the character of Wilson. The fact that they added the product, then named it the same as the actual brand name and turned it into an entire character, one that's death has haunted me since I first saw the film, was pure genius. Of course the same film also showed numerous Fed-Ex boxes, which was a tad more obvious, but still crucial to the films story line, So the products logo wasn't as offensive...it did save the guys life! As a bonus, the placement was done for free!
Another clever Product Placement was in Fight Club. The entire idea of the film is rebelling against an ingrained system that emphasizes and endorses products, and capitalism above all else. Throughout, one can see the products that have taken control of Norton's life from the starbucks coffee cups that can be spotted in every scene, we also see that Norton has decorated his home entirely with Ikea furniture as a reflection of self. The scene that portrays his apartment also has the names of the Ikea furniture and prices pop up on screen so that we can see how everything in his apartment came from the one company.
Then there's Lynches Fantastic Blue Velvet which endorsed Pabst Blue Ribbon, although whether it was simply apart of the script or a paid for placement is unknown. In a scene where the protagonist hangs around with a psychotic, completely deranged (and yet totally unforgettable) character and asks for a Heineken only to be met with "Heineken? F*ck that sh*t! Pabst Blue Ribbon!". Nice, subtle and still giving a finger to Heineken, you gotta love Lynch.
Now for an animated movie: Wall-E, a feature length dedication to Apple. One that is so subtle that its easily missed. Apple actually had a part to play in designing the New sleek Robot EVE, the love interest for Wall-E, who was a broken rusty boxy old robot. The film never actually shows apple products (except for one scene where there was an ipod in the background) and yet its dedication to Apple is there throughout. From Wall-E's signal tone when he's finished charging (which is the Apple start up tune) to the OS X leopard wallpaper.
Another not so delightful placement that can be seen in Wall-E is the numerous Buy N'Large sings that litter the screen. In a film based on the wastle land that Earth has become due to over consuming, mass production and completely unnecessary buying, the Buy N'Large sign isn't really a promotion, but more of a 'Watch out/Danger Ahead' wink to the audience.
And the Unforgivable!
Totally In Yer Face Advertising!
And now for the Unbearable!
Percy Jackson- This young demi-god uses an Ipod of all things to kill Medusa when she catches her own reflection. Ugh!
The A Team- And here's where it gets ridiculous, every car seen in the film is a Mercedes. As if every single person in the world owned one! Its not even believable, or realistic, its blatant product placement shoved down our throats (or in our eyes!)
The Iron Man film- that's right, all of them! They have unashamedly been filled with brands such as Vanity fair, Rolling Stones, Audi, Burger King, Chevy and StarBucks. But even after all of those, Have you ever looked at the actual Iron man Suits and wondered 'Why do they look familiar?'. Its probably because each Iron man suit is colored with both Coca-Cola colors and Pepsi Colors....I'm sure its coincidence...but then again....
Evolution- This entire film was sponsored by Head and Shoulders, because the only way to kill aliens in this sci fi film was spraying them with, yep, head and shoulders! Surely that means its not good for people to use though...right?!
Happy Gilmore- A fun film, but one that has the product placement built right into the script with the main character, an Athlete, being Sponsored by none other than Subway....Cause their foods just so god damn healthy!
Forrest Gump- Gulping on his fifteenth Dr Pepper wit the logo positioned right in front of Camera.
The Wizard- A bizarre film based totally around Nintendo products....as if the movie wasn't bad enough.
Transformers- Ugh this is a bad one. A Decepticon transforms from not a car, or a truck or bus, or plane, but a mountain Dew soda machine! I mean I guess its funny, but not really.
The Island- Stuffed with 35 product placements...OTT much? You'd think Michael Bay would be getting better at this, apparently numerous films of practice don't make perfect product placements.
The Internship- This film looks more like Google trying to Advertise Job Positions (which are apparently ridiculously hard to get into) rather than it being an entertaining film. Its Wholly centered on Google. And its Shameful.
And then there's the Millions of unnamed films that blatantly show off Apple Logo's every possible way they can from laptop covers to phones. I mean, They. Are. Everywhere!
There You Have It!
So, if I've left out either some genius or shameful product placements in film let me know in the comments section below. As for me, I despise advertising, everything about it and what it says about society, but in saying that, some films have done it in such a way that's its less in yer face, and more a subtle wink to the audience. These films I enjoy, because they've taken the time to make sure the advertising isn't offensive, and ingrained it into the story so that it fits. This is where advertising in film is a success. Shoving brands into the shot, or adding them after in post production is a way of making easy money, simple as that. No work really, just have them sipping a starbucks coffee rather than plain coffee cup. Of Course then there are the films that refuse to offend audiences with cheap product placements, like Tarantino's Pulp Fiction, where he has a character smoking fake branded cigarettes or eating from fake restaurants like Big Kahuna Burger!