Product placement doesn’t have to be, well, BAD. Movies more often than not take place in the real modern world, and to portray that world without familiar brands and products can just come across as strange to the audience. At its best, product placement adds to the story. It improves the immersion. And like directing, editing, and every other aspect of film making, product placement is most successful when it doesn’t disrupt the story.
Pizza Hut, Reebok, etc., Wayne’s World
Quite possibly the most consciously well known product placement scene of all time, because the film went all out and embraced it. The scene portrays the lead characters protesting they would never stoop to something as low as product placement, while at the same time doing all out commercials for various products. While this joke had been done before (Return of the Killer Tomatoes), the filmmakers of Wayne’s World did it with such panache that it became one of the best scenes in the movie.
Reese’s Pieces, E.T. the Extra Terrestrial
If a candy ever had a supporting role in a film this is it. Not only did E.T. and Reese’s Pieces become forever associated with one another, even the peanut butter flavor itself became associated to the lovable alien with all sorts of peanut butter flavored “E.T.” products appearing in supermarkets.
Windex, My Big Fat Greek Wedding
Clever. Provide a character with a quirk in which he or she uses a product for all sorts of zany purposes. Make that product something we as the audience can all buy in stores and you have yourself a great commercial.
FedEx, Cast Away
Film characters often need careers as part of their back-story. If so, then why not have them work for a company we’ve actually heard of? Cast Away did this very well with FedEx not only being the lead character’s employer, but also his reason for becoming stranded, and as a symbol of his refusal to give up hope through the one package he refused to open.
Coca-Cola, Blade Runner
When portraying the near but advanced future, the filmmaker has the difficult job of creating a world that is both alien, but also familiar. As Blade Runner proved, one way to do this is with familiar advertising. To see a futuristic billboard for Coca-Cola, it reminds us that no matter how alien the landscape may seem, it is still our world.
DeLorean, Back to the Future
You can’t top this. You simply can’t. DeLoreans would be a footnote in automotive history if it weren’t for the Back to the Future trilogy. Face it, people initially began wanting one when they first saw them in the films. The car’s only fault was it lacked one heavily requested option… a flux-capacitor, of course.
Aston Martin, James Bond
Remember when James Bond drove a BMW for a few years? Felt weird, didn’t it? Strangely, that’s great product placement for Aston Martin. There was actually applause when it was announced James Bond would be back behind the wheel of his beloved British sports car. James Bond and Aston Martin is the kind of product placement relationship advertisers dream about.
Nintendo, The Wizard
Yes, it’s an awful movie, but let’s all admit… If you were into Nintendo in 1989 then you probably went and saw this movie anyway and left wondering if you should reconsider buying a power glove. Super Mario Brothers 3, which premiered in the movie, would go on to be one of the highest rated, best selling video games of all time.
Various Ads – Blades of Glory, Talladega Nights – What are ice-skating rinks and race tracks surrounded with? That’s right, ads! The fact of the matter is some places just don’t look right without ads covering everything. Times Square, Sports Arenas, etc. Obviously, this is great for product placement. The ads actually improve the scene. And while I’m sure artistic filmmakers would hate to admit it, it’s a valid argument for shooting films in these types of locations.
This is a great example of knowing where the line is and not crossing it. The GM product placement was able to stretched slightly when the character of Bumble Bee was changed from a VW Beetle into a Chevrolet Camaro. Since at his heart, Bumble Bee should transform into a teenager’s beloved first car, this angle worked. When it came to Optimus Prime, however, the filmmakers bulls-eyed the limit of how far things would stretch and kept him as not only a full-sized big-rig, but also the only Autobot who was not a GM car.
American Express, Batman/Batman & Robin
We bring these two up as it’s a perfect example of how to and NOT to do product placement. In 1989’s Batman a mugger goes through a victim’s wallet while mocking its contents. This works; the scene moves on. It comes across as something a mugger might actually do and say. In 1997’s Batman & Robin, however, we have Batman (not Bruce Wayne, but Batman) pulling out his own American Express card, complete with Bat-Logo, and saying, “Don’t leave the Bat-Cave without it!” This scene makes you want to throw your drink at the screen. Heck if you’re a Batman fan it makes you want to pull out your own American Express card and cut it in half. It’d be challenging to come up with an example of even worse product placement.
There’s a phrase in story development known as “organic”. When an element of a story is “organic” that means it flows with the rest of the story. It works, and it’d be hard to imagine its removal. In other words, the element doesn’t feel tacked on. This is what product placement should shoot for. Consider what some of our favorite movies would be if Marty McFly didn’t have his DeLorean, James Bond his Aston Martin, or E.T. his Reese’s Pieces. They would each be a different, possibly lesser, film.