Last week’s blog featured movies about advertising. This week we’ll explore advertising in movies also known as product placement or embedded advertising.
When we watch a movie are we viewing a world full of products or products placed into this world? Is there a difference? When we notice familiar branded objects such as automobiles in movies, aren’t we seeing an accurate depiction of life as if we were looking out the window? What if all the cars in the scene are of the same manufacturer who has offset production expenses by supplying the vehicles?
This trend in advertising leans toward real life scenarios where the product is not the star of its advertisement, rather subtly placed into the action as part of the scene. Take the classic example in the movie E.T. in which Elliott leaves a trail of Reese’s Pieces to lure the extraterrestrial out of the forest. The candy had been on the market for two years. Product recognition was negligible and sales were sagging. Hershey spent $1 million over six weeks to promote the film, and in turn was given permission to use the film to promote its candy. Within two weeks of the release date, Reese’s Pieces sales had tripled, eventually making a 65% jump (some sources say as high as 85%). Steven Spielberg’s 1982 blockbuster broke the dam and completely changed the rules about product placement. Today this practice is commonplace and products are written into scenes in exchange for hefty fees in what constitutes a multi-billion dollar infusion into the movie industry.
Product placement is definitely more controversial than other types of advertisements. On one hand, isn’t it more realistic to show a can of Coke on the screen than a generic label that nobody recognizes? But what happens when the product placement is highly blatant, drawing attention to the fact that a company probably paid a fortune to have its product highlighted? Does the exchange of money change anything?
Consider two transparent uses of product placement: In the futuristic Demolition Man, starring Sandra Bullock and Sylvester Stallone, a franchise war “in the past” knocked out all competitors and left only Taco Bell standing. Everyone eats at Taco Bell. On the other hand, Cast Away, starring Tom Hanks, is basically a two-hour advertisement for FedEx (and Wilson the volleyball). When a FedEx plane crashes near a deserted island, the star opens the numerous FedEx packages that have fallen around him to find articles he can use to survive and even delivers one once he gets home. Interestingly enough, Taco Bell reportedly paid a fortune for such prominent placement while FedEx made no investment.
This week we will explore advertising in the movies. Follow me as we take a look at advertising as portrayed by Hollywood on the silver screen. These are my favorites:
1) Crazy People – Our first film stars Dudley Moore as Emory Leeson, an advertising executive whose “honest ads” don’t go over too well with his boss: “Volvo, they’re boxy but they’re good.” After experiencing a nervous breakdown, he is sent to an insane asylum. In the meantime his ads are accidentally sent to the clients, who of course love them and want more of the same. His boss tries unsuccessfully to recreate the campaign and is forced to go to the asylum to ask Leeson to deliver more of the same. This results in a new branch of the agency with Leeson and fellow patients comprising the loony but successful new team.
2) The next movie involves an overworked advertising executive, wrapped up in his work to the neglect of his family. Dustin Hoffman stars alongside Meryl Streep in the much acclaimed Kramer vs. Kramer from 1979. Ted Kramer is just awarded the account of his life when he comes home to find that his wife is leaving him and their son.
3) We move on to Mel Gibson who stars as an advertising executive who believes he is God’s gift to women in What Women Want. A freak accident empowers him with the ability to hear what women are thinking (including female dogs), which he uses to develop campaigns with incredible appeal to this demographic.
4) Finally, honorable mention goes to movies with advertising with characters that work in ad agencies but the movies are not about the field of advertising.
- Michael Keaton is a Dad who loses his job as an advertising executive and is forced to become Mr. Mom.
- How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days stars the adorable Matthew McConaughey as an AE who wagers he can get a girl to fall in love with him in 10 days who tangles with journalist Kate Hudson who is doing a story about how to lose a guy in ten days.
- In Picture Perfect, the single advertising executive played by Jennifer Aniston is passed up for promotion because her boss believes that single women are unstable. She fabricates an elaborate story about her engagement to get the promotion.
- Last but not least, Steve Martin portrays a very high strung advertising executive that gets a lesson in “taking it easy” when he gets stuck on Thanksgiving weekend traveling with a shower ring salesman who is on a totally different wavelength in Planes, Trains and Automobiles.
Advertising comes at us in a variety of forms. We can see and hear ads over a wide range of formats: print, radio, TV, mobile and stationary billboards, internet, embedded messages, mobile, in-store, celebrity branding, aerial, etc. Lately, one of the oldest forms of advertising has been making a comeback while adapting new variations. We’ve all seen the Statue of Liberty standing on the street corner during tax time pointing drivers into Liberty Tax locations. There has been a recent insurgence of “human directionals” enthusiastically twirling their signs and directing us into a new development, cell phone store or going out of business sale.
“Human directionals,” “human billboards,” “sign walkers,” “sign holders” or “sign twirlers” have been around for centuries. They became prevalent in the early 1800s after a tax was excised on
outdoor poster ads in London and businesses had to compete over the limited amount of wall space. Ads were worn on hats, human poster boards or on outrageous costumes. Later in the 1930s when the t-shirt began to be worn as an outer garment, it became a popular tool for advertisements.
Companies that are apt to get their message across not only display their messages by being worn or held up by people, but recently have found other innovative ways to display their walking billboards:
- The controversial GoldenPalace.com has paid athletes to display their web domain atsporting events in the form of temporary tattoos on their backs.
- The back of Jim Nelson’s head was auctioned off to the highest bidder – CI Host, who claim the tattoo resulted in 500 new customers.
- The last example comes to us from Sydney and is a cross between “a bag and a shirt,” which is a TV screen embedded in a vest that shows-yes you guessed it-moving advertisements.