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Weekend Roundtable: Movie & TV Product Placement

Product placement in movies and TV is certainly not a new development, but it seems to be getting more overt and annoying in recent years. As far as I can tell, this week’s theatrical release of ‘The Internship’ is essentially a 119-minute commercial for Google that we’re expected to pay upwards of $15 a ticket for the privilege of sitting through. For today’s Roundtable, we look at other examples of blatant and obnoxious product placement.

Adam Tyner (DVDTalk)

Not that I want to admit to ever having watched ‘Smallville‘, but I’m kind of in awe of the Season 7 episode ‘Hero’. This 42-minute commercial is set largely in a Stride gum factory, where you’re treated to a Stride-sponsored concert, eight hojillion Stride logos, a Stride ticker thing at the bottom of the screen, a long-absent character flashing a smile and holding up a pack of Stride to the camera, and (why not?) even a Stride-powered superhero.

See, Pete Ross chews a Kryptonite-infected stick of Stride gum that bestows upon him the ability to stretch. At first, he does the whole Mr. Fantastic thing and revels in his superheroics, but the Kryptonite exposure starts to take its toll on Pete’s mind. With great product placement power comes great product placement responsibility, and Clark has to teach him blah blah blah blah blah… It’s a trainwreck, but ‘Hero’ is so shamelessly over-the-top that it’s kind of hard to look away. Also, isn’t it a bad thing for a sponsor to pony up for an episode where its product is tainted during manufacturing and makes people kinda psychotic like this?

Daniel Hirshleifer

When it comes to overt product placement, it’s hard to imagine anything more over-the-top or in-your-face than the dance number in the ’80s kids’ film ‘Mac and Me‘. The dance number takes place in a McDonald’s, and Ronald McDonald himself shows up to take part in the festivities. Heck, the movie’s title is designed to make you long for a Big Mac. The film itself is a bizarre, at times grotesque rip-off of ‘E.T.’, and it’s amazing how I didn’t notice the product placement as a kid. As an adult, however, it stands out like a beacon.

Shannon Nutt

This one’s easy, as it has stuck in my mind years after seeing the movie. In Bill Cosby’s ‘Leonard, Part 6‘ (yes, I was one of the few who actually paid to see this turkey in a movie theater), there’s a scene where Cosby drinks a Coca-Cola and carefully holds the bottle and the label so that they face directly towards the camera at all times. The scene is more about selling Coke than about providing any important information to forward the plot. Then again, ‘Leonard, Part 6′ didn’t really have a plot, so I hope Cos at least got a nice kickback from Coca-Cola.

Luke Hickman

We all know that Michael Bay is a whore when it comes to filmmaking (if major corporations were jumping at the bit to buy slots in my posts, I’d take the money without thinking too), but he has no shame when it comes to product placement. I don’t think that I’m reaching when I say that he’s the worst offender out there. The most atrocious evidence is ‘The Island‘.

I would give you a spoiler alert warning here, but if you’ve had eight years to see the action flick and haven’t watched it yet, I doubt you ever will. Thousands of clones are imprisoned against their knowledge deep beneath the Mojave Desert with a sole purpose – that their organs be harvested when their upper-class original copies need them. Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson are among the clones. These innocent dummies have no idea that they’re facsimile people, and they have nowhere to escape to, yet several products are shoved down their throats incessantly. For some reason, Aquafina ads constant flash in their living spaces. For exercise, they play X-Box fighting games that require them to physically beat the hell out of one another. The only shoes that can be found in this underground clone factory carry the Puma logo.

As if they’d ever have the option to decide between Aquafina or Fiji, X-Box or PlayStation, Puma or Nike, the clones are blasted with advertisements. And it doesn’t stop there. Once our gorgeous heroes escape, we, the audience, are bombarded with Budweiser, GMC, Calvin Klein, Microsoft, MSN, Speedo and many, many more ads. Damn you, Michael Bay!

Tom Landy

One word: ‘Transformers‘. Besides the entire franchise being one long infomercial for General Motors, practically every scene has some sort of blatant advertisement in it. Apple, Burger King, eBay, Nokia, Hewlett-Packard, Mountain Dew… the list goes on and on. It would almost make a great drinking game, unless of course, you’d rather not die from alcohol poisoning.

Mike Attebery

I’ve gone on about ‘The Terminal‘ in previous Roundtables. What can I say, it truly sucks. And it really takes the cake in the shameless product placement department. I know airports have a lot of stores, but I’ve never seen one with a retail lineup quite like this: Baja Fresh, Baskin-Robbins, Borders, Brookstone, Burger King, Dr. Pepper, Heineken, Hudson News, Hugo Boss, La Perla, Origins, Panda Express, Paul Mitchell, Payless Shoes, Planter’s Peanuts, Sbarro, Starbucks, Swatch, Verizon Wireless. Ugh.

Josh Zyber

By the time of the James Bond reboot ‘Casino Royale‘ in 2006, MGM’s finances had fallen so badly apart that the studio couldn’t afford to make the movie on its own. As a result, Sony stepped in to co-produce the film. In doing so, the new studio insisted that the picture be inundated with truly absurd amounts of Sony product placement. In scene after scene, James Bond watches Sony DVD-Roms on a Sony Blu-ray player while using his Sony Vaio laptop, taking photos on his Sony digital camera and making a call on his Sony Ericcson cell phone. I only wish I were kidding. Every single consumer product in the movie is a Sony with its logo prominently positioned to face the camera, and this problem is only marginally reduced in the next two sequels.

Tell us in the Comments below about some of the most obnoxious product placement you’ve seen.

35 comments

  1. Ed

    Product placement has always been bad, but it’s definitely gotten worse these past few years. I love the CW’s “Arrow,” but I can’t count how many times they’ve had the camera linger on characters looking at a tablet or smart phone running Windows 8. :-P

  2. Rcorman

    I absolutely hate it when a show does the – “Let’s all go to Subway and enjoy their 6 inch Roast chicken sub with chipotle sauce for $3.99″.

    It was funny the first couple times they did it on Chuck, but then it got annoying, and now I see that a few shows on the History Channel are starting to do it. If the object was to make me not want to eat there, then mission accomplished Subway.

    • Josh Zyber
      Author

      At least Chuck tried to make a joke of being forced to shove the product placement down everyone’s throat. But yeah, the joke got stale after the first few times.

  3. Elizabeth

    Perhaps no one here watches Bones but they had a ludicrous episode advertising Avatar. One of the episodes main plots was 3 of the scientists waiting in line for the Avatar premier. I guess the ultimate joke of it was that the character played by Joel David Moore (who is in Avatar) ultimately skips the premier to have sex.

  4. BatmanFreek

    The Wizard was practically a giant commercial for Super Mario Brothers 3 and other games

    • Pedram

      But it was the best movie-long commercial ever. What kid didn’t love Nintendo already at that point? To me it wasn’t so much a commercial as it was a movie about stuff I already loved and it was great to see them on the big screen.

          • William Henley

            I must admit that the main reason I saw the movie as a kid was to get my first look at Super Mario Bros 3 and the Power Glove. BTW, cool concept for the Power Glove, just way ahead of its time. Just thinking how Nintento has tried for years to get more immersive or interactive gaming – the Power Glove, the Power Pad, the Virtual Boy, the Wii, the Wii Sports Board (whatever its called), the Nintendo DS, the 3DS, the different varriations of the light gun, etc.

  5. Bryan

    Anyone remember the movie “The Wizard”? Entire movie highlighting how amazing Nintendo video games and products. The ground breaking finale is highlighting the launch of Super Mario 3.

  6. Chris

    Men in Black II is one of the worst. The product placement is so blatant. Mercedes, Victoria’s Secret, Sprint, Burger King, Playstation, Ray Ban, etc.

  7. plissken99

    I love it when I spot it without looking for it. Probably the worst show I know of is Burn Notice, which I watched until a year ago, when suddenly I realized I didn’t care one bit about whatever was happening on the screen and turned it off. If they want me back, make Bruce Campbell the star.

    Anyway Burn Notice always had the most blatant product placement, Hyundai being the most noteable. My favorite of all time in the show was when Bruce Campbell walks into a bar and says “gimme a Miller Genuine Draft”, and the camera goes to a close up of the bottle actually changing hands with the label perfectly facing the camera, it was a 2 second shot, I could feel it trying to penetrate my subconscious lol.

  8. Ted S.

    Even though I really enjoyed the movie, I thought the constant product placement in Minority Report was kind of annoying.

  9. bhlombardy

    Has anyone even considered “Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle” ?

    or The Coca-Cola Kid?

    The Fastest Indian?

    – but I’m right there on the blatant advertising in TV shows. I can handle seeing a product on screen… that’s about as obvious as I need. I know a Pepsi didn’t appear by accident on the dinner table. But when the characters in the ACTUALLY pitch the product, (Subway, State Farm, Dr. Pepper all come to mind) — enough that detracts from the show, that’s when I turn it off.

  10. William Henley

    Daniel Hirshleifer – I can’t believe anyone actually remembers that movie! I was starting to think I must have made up the memory of it as a kid – I haven’t even heard of it in probably 25 years! Whereever did you find it? (or should I just go with the obvious Amazon answer?)

    You’ve Got Mail was obviously a 90 minute long commercial for America Online, Apple, IBM, Visa, and Starbucks.

    The most in-your-face product placement I have ever seen has got to be Poltergeist. The kids’ bedroom alone is one giant product placement for toys and Star Wars, the family kitchen has products at weird angles so you can clearly read lables on boxes and cans and jars, and let’s not forget all the branding on the video equipment.

    There was some subtle product placement in Flight of the Navigator. About the only one that is really shown that I can remember is the closeups of the car logos, but there was product placement for MTV, Twisted Sister, McDonald’s and Coca-Cola that was not all that noticable. There was also the advertisements in Tokyo.

  11. Devon

    There are a lot of films/tv shows with blatant advertising…the most recent one I seen was “This is 40,” Its like the movie was made by apple!

  12. I thought the reward Tony Stark gave to the kid who helped him in Iron Man 3 was one of the most egregious examples of product placement ever.

  13. Scott Hunvald

    I know transformers was already mentioned, but specifically for me in the first movie, in the battle at the end where they show a kids Xbox become a transformer and the Mountain Dew vending machine becoming a transformer. Another thing I just love to laugh at is when you see a brand featured in a show no matter what it is, but they have black tape over the vehicle or product emblem.

    • In the “Home Alone” audio commentary, Chris Columbus talks about this. He says it’s a thin line between shameless plug and necessary recognition (I’m paraphrasing here). He says it “takes the audience out of it” if they see a Brand X when the expect a real brand. That’s why he (well, the production designer probably) opted for the visible ‘Kraft’ logo when Kevin buys the “Macaroni & Cheese”.

  14. One of my most favorite product placement issues was in Buffy The Vampire Slayer.

    When she’s sitting on the couch with her boyfriend, who is eating Doritos or something, he turns the bag toward the camera so the front label is easy to read!

    Other than that, the only ones that seemed to jump out and slap me in the face is The Avengers. In the beginning when the Oracle logo comes into view, it seemed to actually scream at me! LOOK AT ME!! THIS SCENE IS BROUGHT TO YOU BY ORACLE!!!!

  15. Josh Zyber
    Author

    No mention of Independence Day yet?

    Apple computers are so powerful that one Macbook can single-handedly stop an alien invasion. :)

  16. JR

    What about the ridiculously clean and new Hyundai Tucson with constant airtime on the Walking Dead?