August 16, 2010

The power of product placement

Using (or overusing) product placement in the movies.

Have you seen the trailer for The Social Network, the movie about the founding of Facebook? Not only is the premise intriguing, the marketing prowess of the producers is awesome: This film is a three-hour product placement. And it made me a little nostalgic for some other product placement movies. If your favorite is missing from my top 5, please feel free to comment.

5. Demolition Man — 1993
As a movie fan I’m willing to suspend disbelief for as long as need be. So when you’re telling me a story about a cop and a criminal mastermind who are cryogenically frozen for decades only to reemerge as healthy as ever, I’ll stay with you. When you tell me that society in the future has become completely nonviolent and utopian, I’ll follow. But the second you try to sell me on the idea that this perfect, nonviolent society dines solely at Taco Bell, you have officially lost me.

4. You’ve Got Mail — 1998
Honestly, I liked this movie better when it was called Sleepless in Seattle, but I can’t deny the sheer marketing genius of AOL in choosing to be its email server. It was probably better use of their marketing dollars than mailing out all those free AOL CD-ROMs (which, by the way, made fantastic beverage coasters). In today’s world of email servers, it would be pretty difficult to find two people who actually still use AOL email and who could find one another, so maybe this product placement wasn’t so effective in the long run.

3. Cast Away — 2000
This movie was two-plus hours long, with no score, and the only characters in the movie were Tom Hanks, a Wilson volleyball and the FedEx logo in a variety of applications. As great as Hanks’ performance was, a lot of credit goes to FedEx for its supporting role (all apologies to Wilson).

2. Transformers — 2007
Transformers worked on so many levels — as a title if not as a movie. Jerry Bruckheimer transformed one of my favorite childhood toy franchises into a horrible movie, and my pronounced interest in Megan Fox had to do with me transforming into a man. Both Hasbro and Chevy used this movie to transform their brands. Chevy got the rights to be the official car of the Autobots (if it’s any consolation, Volkswagen, I’ll always remember Bumblebee as a Beetle) and Hasbro got to introduce a new line of toys that are even more difficult to transform than their predecessors.

1. The Wizard — 1989
This one gets such high status because: 1) it featured two of my favorite things from the ’80s — Fred Savage and Nintendo games; and 2) it was the first movie that showed me the power of product placement. I was 9 when this movie came out and, like every kid who liked Nintendo games, I wanted to see it because of all the cool new Nintendo products in it. This was the movie that introduced the Nintendo Power Glove and gave video game fans their first look at Super Mario Brothers 3. This movie was a 90-minute Nintendo commercial that doubled as an early Christmas list for kids who loved the games. In fact, it was so successful that Super Mario Brothers 3 is still one of the fastest-selling games of all time. Unfortunately the Power Glove shared the same fate as Fred Savage’s career.

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