Thursday, March 10, 2011


“The cost of movies is going up, and that really drives almost everything”

Its hard to watch a movie these days without seeing a product placement at least a few times. Some movies are very blatant, and others more subtle, but you can always see the sponsors getting their stuff shown in the film. The real start of this was Reece's Pieces in the movie ET, which made the candy's sales explode by 65% that summer, tipping companies off about the power of having their product featured in movies.

More and more movies started sticking products prominently in them, from billboards to restaurants and shoes. Wayne's World mocked this with a hilarious scene about selling out:
BENJAMIN: Wayne! Listen, we need to have a talk about Vanderhoff. The fact is he's the sponsor and you signed a contract guaranteeing him certain concessions, one of them being a spot on the show.
WAYNE: [holding a Pizza Hut box] Well that's where I see things just a little differently. Contract or no, I will not bow to any sponsor.
BENJAMIN: I'm sorry you feel that way, but basically it's the nature of the beast.
WAYNE: [holding a bag of Doritos] Maybe I'm wrong on this one, but for me, the beast doesn't include selling out. Garth, you know what I'm talking about, right?
GARTH: [wearing Reebok wardrobe] It's like people only do these things because they can get paid. And that's just really sad.
WAYNE: I can't talk about it anymore; it's giving me a headache.
GARTH: Here, take two of these!
[Dumps two Nuprin pills into Wayne's hand]
WAYNE: Ah, Nuprin. Little. Yellow. Different.
BENJAMIN: Look, you can stay here in the big leagues and play by the rules, or you can go back to the farm club in Aurora. It's your choice.
WAYNE: [holding a can of Pepsi] Yes, and it's the choice of a new generation.
Even movies set in the future such as Demolition Man back in the early 90s had Taco Bell prominently placed and featured in the film. They handled it well but sometimes product placement is bizarre or jarring. In the film Spider-Man, Spidey thwips his way down a new york street past and landing on several very carefully framed vehicles, first a Dr Pepper truck then a Carlsberg beer truck. Apple crams their computers into every movie possible, with Independence Day's hacking alien computers and Mission Impossible's hilariously unrealistic "Job" search scene. Blade: Trinity had a really awful placement of I-Pod with Jessica Biel's character Abigail downloading songs from iTunes and creates a playlist for her next encounter and fighting with an I-Pod in place in every scene. I, Robot was jammed full of pointless product shots, lingering on the shoes Will Smith wears and getting things delivered by Fed Ex, which also features overwhelmingly in Castaway, but was actually part of the plot.

Why use these placements instead of generic or made up products? Well for one, it helps anchor the movie for modern audiences, helping with the sense of immersion. If your actor drinks Coca-Cola instead of Zola-Cola, whipped up by the art department, people get a better sense they're watching realistic events. But that's not the main reason, or even a big one. Just having modern, real products in a movie doesn't compel you to show them in full, with a nicely framed shot lingering on the logo a while. It comes down to money.

Take the film Up In The Air. The makers were strapped for cash and needed a lot of airport and airline-related scenes. Enter American Airlines, who get continuous screen time and positive depiction through the whole movie. Another company who benefited was Hilton Hotels. Stephanie Clifford at the New York Times (free registration required) has the story:
In the 2009 film “Up in the Air,” Jason Reitman, the writer and director, wanted a real hotel brand for his frequent-flying character.

As a Hilton Honors Diamond V.I.P. member himself, Mr. Reitman urged the studio to make a deal with Hilton, which offered free lodging for the crew, sets and promotions of the film on everything from key cards to in-room televisions to toll-free hold messages. Hilton worked with the production company to make sure everything from staff uniforms to hotel shuttles was portrayed correctly.

Deals like that mean lower-budget movies like U
p in the Air can be made. They also mean movie viewers are increasingly paying to see more elaborately constructed advertising.
Much of the article comes from sitting in on a development meeting for an upcoming movie called 28th Amendment, a political thriller. The marketing and money guys pressure the writer and director to add more product placement in the film, even where it makes no sense.
Manufacturers can stipulate that a clothing label must be tried on “in a positive manner,” or candy or hamburgers have to be eaten “judiciously.” A liquor company might sponsor a film only if there is no underage drinking or if the bar where its product is served is chic rather than seedy.

The more intricately a film involves a product, the more a brand pays for the appearance, offering fees ranging from a few hundred thousand dollars to several million a film.

Writers say this helps them work in brands gracefully, rather than finding out later that studio executives have jammed in products at the last minute. “The pressure to integrate is always there,” Mr. Orci said.
The desire of the art side of the film making process is for the placement to be reasonable, seamless, and not jarring. The money guys, however, want the product to be visible, effective, and help them get more money for placements in future film projects. So when the actor picks up his bottle of Rolling Rock, he holds it label-first to the camera and doesn't obscure any of the logo, no matter how unlike the character or uncomfortable it might be.

And there's no getting away from it, because movies are very expensive and they want all the help financing a project that they can get. So you get advertisements in the middle of your movies. Guys like Adam Sandler tend to mock this practice and have fun with it, but its still there. The best writers and directors can do is try to fit them in seamlessly and plausibly, because they can't keep them out.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

At least in a film like "Up in the Air" it makes sense to have things take place in the real world product placement or not. I hate when it happens in a movie that it shouldn't be in like you mentioned about some of the science fiction films.

My favorite is in "Fight Club" they were sponsored by IKEA and the apt totally blew up and Volkswagen and BMW the VW got its headlights smashed in and the BMWs had pigeons crapping all over them.