Product Placement and You
Since the beginning of film, producers have supplanted secret images to make viewers aware of brand name products that could be purchased. The Great Train Robbery (1903) was really just a commercial for Amtrak, I’m joking but you get the hint. Films and television need revenue that sometimes the ticket sales can not add up to. There is some good and bad in product placement. The well done ones are usually invisible while the mediocre attempts can be somewhat harmful for the program as well as the sponsoring brand.
The James Bond films are an excellent example of showing high class products without making it tacky. At least they used to be. Since the reinvention of the series in the mid-90’s, they have gone a little overboard with the cross-promotional advertising. Everyone who watched the films from the 60’s wanted an Aston Martin but same can not be said about BMW Z3 from Goldeneye. This does have somewhat to do with the product itself but at least the audience was prepared.
The movie The Wizard (1990) received a lot of financing from Nintendo in an effort to promote its entire video game system as well as being the first time to announce the upcoming Super Mario Bros. 3. Yet Dairy Queen was mentioned and pictured more prominently in the film and was not an actual sponsor. Product placement was huge in that era and poorly disguised as can be seen in its most impractical form with the E.T. ripoff Mac and Me where a scene filmed at a McDonald’s turns into a choreographed dance routine that has absolutely nothing to do with the storyline. Nothing about this scene made viewers want to eat McDonald’s during or after the film and the movie remains a laughing stock for this reason.
Over a decade later, NBC’s spy comedy Chuck partnered with Subway Sandwiches to do a bold new approach. They kept the product placement in their less serious B-stories and made it completely obvious that this is product placement. Going so far as to cut in the middle of the story related dialogue to describe a Subway sandwich as a commercial would and add the tagline “Eat Fresh.” The audience is well aware of how ridiculous this is but it adds much to the humor and intelligent viewers know the show has to make money and actually respects the company Subway for being able to laugh at themselves. The serious spy plotlines are uninvaded by such nonsense and hungry viewers might get a little hankering for a snack. Either way, the brand name gets out there without being in a negative light.