April 22, 2011

MRQE Rewind: Product Placement in Film

Product placement in films is a key reason why so many movies have high budgets, and can bring in millions of dollars for one film alone. In Morgan Spurlock's latest doc, POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, the filmmaker explores the world of product placement. In fact, the film was purely funded off product placement, and features 19 sponsors. In this honor, we present a list of 15 ridiculous, humorous, and sometimes ironic product placements in films over the last century.

I, Robot (2004) – MRQE Metric: 63

Will Smith’s sci-fi adventure I, Robot seems to be a moving Converse advertisement. Smith's character, Spooner, gets over excited when his "vintage" 2004 Converse kicks arrive (the flick takes place in the future), to only later be disappointed when sludge and oil cover and ruin his shoes. After this film was released, Converse created a special I, Robot sneaker in honor of in cross-promotion of Spooner.

Demolition Man (1993) – MRQE Metric: 58

Demolition Man truly has some shameless product placement. In the utopian future where urban sprawl merged Los Angeles, San Diego, and Santa Barbara into one mega city called "San Angeles," former cryogenically frozen LAPD officer John Spartan (Sly Stallone) is thawed out to help end a crime spree waged by another cryogenically frozen con (Wesley Snipes). In one scene, Sly ends up going to the last remaining chain restaurant--the lone survivor of the so-called, "Franchise Wars"--Taco Bell. Come on Hollywood! Fine dinning, dancing, and valet parking Taco Bell really secured a solid product placement spot in this film; especially since in foreign markets, the restaurant was changed to Pizza Hut.

Home Alone (1990) – MRQE Metric: 66
Home Alone apparently is all about the Pepsi. Little Fuller in this film is known to wet his bed when he drinks too much of the cola. The famous line, "Fuller! Go easy on the Pepsi!" now echoes in the product placement age; especially now that we're all grown up and realize that this character was just a walking, talking Pepsi commercial. Nevertheless, we would not want to have to share a bed with the little tyke either.

Transformers (2007) – MRQE Metric: 64

One of the strongest product placement plugs has certainly been present in Transformers. The franchise is all about General Motors; especially Bumblebee, which transforms from a redesigned 2007 Chevy Camaro. GM paid one of the highest ever product placement fees to be part of this film. Though, even more successful is the result of Hasbro re-creating the toy GM cars after to gross over $480 million in toy sales alone in 2007!

Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) – MRQE Metric: 63

James Bond movies practically revolve around product placement. From the cars, to the watches, to the five-star hotels, each scene seems to be endorsed by another company. Tomorrow Never Dies, however stand-out as the biggest money-raker in the whole franchise. Karen Sortito, the film's product placement specialist, brought in over $100 million from tie-ins with Omega, Heineken, Avis, L’Oreal, Visa, Smirnoff, and BMW--not only is this a record for James Bond, it's a record for any movie to date.

Independence Day (1996) – MRQE Metric: 64

Independence Day features a double-plug. The first comes from Apple, where a PowerBook is used to send a killer computer virus to the mother ship (clearly, the aliens and their spacecrafts are compatible with Macs). The second form comes via CEO, Rubert Murdoch, who's NewsCorp owns 20th Century Fox (the production house of this film). Murdoch also owns the European news outlet, SkyNews, which is "coincidentally" branded in every scene depicting a news report. Between computers and broadcasters, Independence Day seems to be actually taken over by product placement plugs, and not aliens.

Horse Feathers (1932) – MRQE Metric: n/a

One of the earliest forms of product placement can be found in the Marx Brothers classic, Horse Feathers, where Life Savers candies became true to their name. Unlike what was attempted with Taco Bell in Demolition Man, truly the great marriage of products in film comes with snappy dialogue. In the film, Thelma Todd’s character falls right out of a canoe and into a river; Todd asks for a life saver. Groucho--true to form-- reaches into his pocket and throws her the sweet candy, Life Savers.

E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) – MRQE Metric: 92

Everyone and their mother has seen E.T. The classic film by Steven Spielberg has a running plot line of how much this little alien loves Reese’s Pieces. It is as if the only good thing planet Earth has to offer is a simple bag of peanut butter in a hard candy shell. Due to the success of the film, after its release, the then-five-year-old candy saw sales shoot through the roof. Too bad for M&Ms -- they were originally pitched for the movie.

Happy Gilmore (1996) – MRQE Metric: 56

Adam Sandler films are know for their product placement, from Hooters in Big Daddy, to the giant U.S. Army billboard in Anger Management. However, Happy Gilmore holds one of the best (read: most ridiculous) product placement campaigns of all Sandler movies. Subway was the official sponsor of Happy Gilmore, and as such, the pre-Jared franchise hooked up with Sandler's character, Gilmore, as their in-film spokesman. The in-film commercial, featured Gilmore in a Subway t-shirt and rocking a custom Subway golf-bag -- the movie then gets decked out with Subway branding and Subway sandwiches everywhere. Roger Ebert goes on to say that halfway through the film he didn’t know, “what I wanted more: laughs, or mustard!”

Cast Away - MRQE Metric: 75

There are few movies where the entire plot hinges on product placement, and none is more obvious than Cast Away, which can be considered a two-hour long FedEx commercial. But, the placements didn't end there: we see Hanks sipping on Dr. Pepper (which actually is a reference to Forrest Gump), and of course there's Hanks obsessing over the aptly-named Wilson the volleyball. Hanks even informs Wilson, "you want to hear something funny? My dentist's name is James Spalding." Through an everlasting main plot-line, the ex-FedEx man delivers his package after four years, and the film received high figures to plug both these companies for such a solidified time.

You've Got Mail (1998) – MRQE Metric: 65

Anyone who grew up in the 1990’s or early 2000’s knows the distinctive AOL “You’ve Got Mail” sound. (Didn’t you just hear the deep-voiced man saying that line in your ears?) In the 1998 remake of a James Stewart classic, director Nora Ephron adds a modern twist by making the whole film about two perfect people who met via their AOL e-mail accounts. While, Cast Away's plot hinges on product placement, You've Got Mail takes it a step further, by incorporating the product in the title of the movie . . . oh, and they also meet at a Starbucks!

Fight Club (1999) – MRQE Metric: 81

We now move into the more ironic. While IKEA may prove to be super flammable in Fight Club, the plug Edward Norton’s character gives to the Swedish furniture company is iconic. Norton, as the narrator, proclaims, "Like everyone else, I had become a slave to the IKEA nesting instinct. If I saw something like clever coffee tables in the shape of a yin and yang, I had to have it. I would flip through catalogs and wonder, 'What kind of dining set defines me as a person?'" Norton’s character (and the whole film, really) makes the point that we are slaves to the buying culture. However, maybe we do want to define our design aesthetic and go grab some IKEA stuff...

Wayne's World (1992) – MRQE Metric: 1992

In Wayne’s World, Wayne and Garth act out a whole scene mocking the very nature of product placement advertisement, while prominently displaying actual products, including Doritos, Pizza Hut, Pepsi, Reebok, and even Nuprin. It's a nice meta gag, and after this film was highly successful at the box office, all the companies that were subjected to the almost tongue-in-check summary of product placement, really cashed out. Sometimes it benefits to be the short end of a joke.

The Truman Show (1998) – MRQE Metric: 84

Infused with satire, The Truman Show was well ahead of its time. While the film did not feature any real-life products, it did explore how far reality TV would go for corporate sponsors. From Truman’s wife basically running a Julia Child-esk cooking show in their home kitchen, to the car Truman drives, everything is marketed to the audience. Truman is unaware of the product placement around him so he simply appears to go along with it, that is, until he "wakes up."

For more high octane product placement, check out the great cars featured in our list of the 15 Classic Cinematic Car Chases!

1 comment:

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