In Rebel Without a Cause, James Dean used an Ace Comb and suddenly every cool teenaged boy in American had to have one, which meant a huge bump in sales for the company. Product placements in movies are way more effective than traditional advertising because when placed within the context of a storyline, we become emotionally invested in the image. Plus, you won’t fast-forward through the movie like you would over a commercial.
Man of Steel made $160 million dollars before it was ever released in theatres because there were A HUNDRED products either scattered throughout the film or tied-in afterward. Did you catch them all? Nikon, Budweiser, Sears, 7-Eleven! The producers were all over free money like it was Star Jones’s wedding.
Not all product placements are so cringe-inducing. In Steven Spielberg’s E.T., Reese’s Pieces were actually part of the plot. In the original script, it was M&Ms Elliott used to bribe E.T., but Mars wouldn’t allow their candy in the film if they couldn’t see the final script, so Reese’s Pieces stepped up and made history. Hershey didn’t pay a cent, but they did provide the movie with 1 million dollars worth of free tie-in advertising. Worth it? They saw a 65% increase in sales during the film’s run, so I’d say yes.
The James Bond movies have always been a potpourri of product placements, from fancy-schmancy BMWs and Omega watches to elaborate vacation destinations. But Heineken trumps them all: they paid a reported $45 million dollars to be in Skyfall. And it would be worth a pretty penny to see James, renowned for preferring a martini, to be caught drinking a beer. It’s a sad day when film makers are willing to forgo characterization, history, tradition, and story for the all-mighty dollar, but it’s not just one dollar, it is after all 45 million of them. How many cars can you smash up for 45 million? They destroyed about $34M worth in Spectre.
Speaking of cars, let’s segue to The Italian Job and their iconic use of the Mini Cooper, which became the star of the movie. BMW provided 30 Minis to be used in the film and they saw a 22% rise in sales that year – not bad for a feature-length car commercial. I even rode an Italian Job roller coaster once where the cars were in fact little Minis. The movie made people reconsider the Mini Cooper – what was once thought to be a ‘girly’ car was no rebranded as sporty, speedy, and cool.
Cool is always being sold in the movies. In 1983, Ray-Ban was thinking about cancelling their Wayfarer line when it suddenly got a big bump thanks to Tom Cruise in Risky Business. He made the sunglasses cool again, and the brand attributes the sale of 360 000 pairs to the movie. So you can bet that 3 years later they were only too happy to enter into partnership with Top Gun, which this time high-lighted their Aviator line, which gave them a nice 40% increase.
There’s a battle in Hollywood for King of Product Placement: will it go to director Michael Bay, or to Adam Sandler? Michael Bay is notorious for cramming his movies full of products for sale so they look more like fast-moving catalogues that films. Adam, on the other hand, is much more frank about his brands. And that’s because, embarrassingly, the products in his movies are usually there because he loves them, not because he makes money off of them. “Sandler Marketing” is the shining beacon of product placement, because it’s not a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it can of Diet Pepsi, it’s a blatant shout-out. In Happy Gilmore, it’s actually a plot point that the golfer becomes a spokesman for his favourite sandwich shop, Subway – he’s seen eating a sub while wearing a Subway t-shirt and SHOOTING AN ENTIRE SUBWAY COMMERCIAL. It’s unclear whether Subway paid a dime for this, but that movie was also responsible for increased ratings for The Price is Right, so anything is possible.
Michael Bay, on the other hand, goes another route. You may consider that his Transformers franchise is already advertising since the series was created to sell toys. But that’s not enough anymore. Transformers #4 was nicknamed Advertising In Disguise for the sheer amount of branding jammed into its bloated corpse. The use of GM cars for all the Autobots is obvious enough, but Bay doesn’t have time for subtlety. What he does have time for: a transforming Xbox, Mountain Dew vending machine, and Nokia cellphone.
This stuff is so rampant that there’s actually an awards ceremony to pat people on the back for managing to stuff brands into movies: the Brandcameo product placement awards. Age of Extinction of course took home the trophy the year it was released (ironically it was still sued by a Chinese company for failing to include their logo), with Gone Girl a close second. Apple took home a special prize for overall product placement, having appeared in The Lego Movie, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and in fact in 9 of the 35 highest-grossing films last year. The Theory of Everything also took home an award for marrying an Oscar-bait biopic with product placement (remember the bit about Tide? It wasn’t Tide in the original script.) These awards are always held on Oscars Eve, and this year it wasn’t Apple but Mercedes taking home the overall prize, having appeared in Furious 7, Jurassic World, Spy, 50 Shades of Grey, Focus, and Spectre. Meanwhile Apple managed a paltry Daddy’s Home, Sisters, Our Brand is Crisis, The Last Witch Hunter and The Intern. Achievement in Shameless Product Placement, a title I can’t help but love didn’t go to a movie this year, it went to a person: Mark Wahlberg. He appeared in the movie Entourage as himself, wearing a hat advertising the bottled water he’s invested in, and a t-shirt advertising his own line of body building supplements which he launched in conjunction with his body building movie, Pain and Gain. Meanwhile his other movie, Daddy’s Home, had a whole subplot about Indian motorcycle, for which he is a paid spokesperson, and which sells a “Mark Wahlberg line.”
And the Lifetime Achievement Award went to Pepsi for a veritable orgy of product placement. Last year it appeared in the likes of Tomorrowland, San Andreas, Ant-Man, and Jurassic World. It’s been in Twilight, Moneyball, 127 Hours, Fight Club, Gone in 60 Seconds, Tron, Salt, The Spice Girls Movie, Steve Jobs, Basic Instinct, Election, American Gangster, X-Men: Days of Future Past, Snakes on a Plane, The Blindside, Twister, World War Z. In Home Alone, it garnered a “Fuller, go easy on the Pepsi.” In Big, Tom Hanks’ man-child installed a Pepsi vending machine in his apartment. Pepsi vending machines have taken beatings in several Terminator movies. It’s also been beyond some meta-product placement, like the Doritos (owned by PepsiCo) breaking of the 4th wall in Wayne’s World, and the same basic gag being done by George Clooney in Return of the Killer Tomatoes. But are either of these half as memorable as Joe Manganiello’s stripper routine in Magic Mike’s XXL gas station scene? Didn’t think so. Touché, Pepsi. I raise my glass to you.