Saturday night at a wedding reception I was speaking with a guy who said he had just seen the movie “Something Borrowed” with Kate Hudson, John Krasinski, and Ginnifer Goodwin. He said it was very clear that during the first 20 minutes, as he put it, “the movie was made possible by Heineken, the official beer of this movie.” He said the product placement was overwhelming. I laughed, recalling that in my New Media Market Dynamics class we recently discussed the fact that advertisers are having a heck of a time getting in front of people like they used to. The DVR has helped make it possible to skip ads and advertisers have been trying to reassert their power with the ‘non-skip’ ads in the beginning of movies but I think advertisements are at the cusp of resurging with a vengeance their appearances in shows and movies.
Creative Loafing Atlanta also humorously recognized the “Something Borrowed” product placement faux pas.
According to the book C-Scape by Larry Kramer, the show Mad Men is a great example of this. “It was not widely known, for example, until the third season of AMC’s hit Mad Men, a drama about a fictional 1960s advertising agency, that the show not only referred to 1960s brands as part of its period storyline, but also contained products placements negotiated by still-extant brands. These included London Fog coats and Stolichnaya vodka. The endorsements by characters were sometimes explicit: in one scene, agency head Roger Sterling (played by John Slattery) not only names the brand of vodka he chooses, but he also denies it to an out-of-favor junior account agent, saying ‘Not the Stoli!’ Yet both the show’s producers and the representatives played down the use of product placements. A representative for London Fog told Brandweek.com that the company’s PR agency had facilitated the brand’s placement, yet wouldn’t reveal what compensation the show received. Andrey Skurikhin, a partner at SPI Group, which owns the Stoli brand, stated that he didn’t pay for placement. And the AMC network’s president and general manager, Charlie Collier, refused to provide any information to Brandweek about advertisements built into the show. ‘We absolutely have product integration on the show,’ he explained, ‘but you shouldn’t know which ones are paid and which ones aren’t.'”
Many people (myself included) find this kind of subliminal (or not so subliminal) selling to be disingenuous and sly. But how does the film industry strike a balance between depicting real life with real products and “in your face” product placement? Does the difference lie in how long the camera stays on the product? Or how the product is used?
Admittedly, I tolerate the show The Ultimate Fighter with the whole ad integration of “This fight brought to you by Burger King or Edge Shave Gel” and it is a perfect example of sponsors forcing your attention. But I have the ability to mute the TV and look away, don’t I?
Early in television history commercials were often performed by the actors and actresses from the shows being sponsored. Sometimes the shows would mention the sponsor brand in the course of the episode, too. From my own perspective it seemed as if the movies and shows of the 1980s were heavily loaded with products ala “E.T.” (Reeses Pieces). The “Wayne’s World” movie poked fun at overt product placement in a parody but I can think of several other movies that leaned towards brands pretty heavily: “The Italian Job” (Mini Cooper), “Transporter 3” (Audi A8), “Matrix Reloaded (Cadillac, Ducati)…and the list goes on and on. Expect to see more obvious product placement in films as advertisers attempt to do all they can to re-gain the attention of ad-skippin’ consumers.