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?
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.