The strange world of product placement and its effects on filmmakers

Viewers have a weird relationship with product placement, but how does it affect filmmakers too?

I first became aware of movie ads when I sat down to watch Wayne’s World for the first time. Wayne (Mike Myers) and Garth (Dana Carvey) obnoxiously staring at the camera while advertising products will always make me laugh, but I’ve come to realize that product placement has always been and will continue to be a hallmark of Hollywood cinema. .

Product placement in movies is either seamlessly integrated into the story or blatant, but it can still boost a brand’s recognition and association with cool characters. There’s a fine line between showing off the product and blending into the background. So how does the product fit into film and television today, and how does it affect the filmmaking process?

The birth of product placement

The earliest example of product placement is found in Jules Verne’s 1873 literary masterpiece, Around the world in 80 days. This book was going to fly off the shelves, and everyone knew it even before Verne finished writing. Knowing the potential eyes that would read the novel, the shipping companies had an idea: instead of Verne using any shipping company, what if he was using a particular one?

No one knows if Verne was paid for including the name of the specific shipping company in his novel, but this is the earliest documented example of product placement.

It didn’t take long for the companies to get their products into the film. In 1896, the Lumière brothers, often considered the first filmmakers, agreed to include soap in their film. Laundry day in Switzerland. Since then, brands have found creative new ways to offset costs, making product placement a $23 billion industry in 2022.

Who is responsible for product placement?

Independent product placement agencies like Hollywood Branded connect the brands they represent with writers, producers, designers and props.

“Products are a part of our lives, they just are,” said Stacy Jones, CEO of Hollywood Branded, in an interview with The New York Times.

Items can work as narrative shortcuts in scripts, and Jones makes that point, saying, “Say you have a Montblanc pen, you automatically think, ‘This character has a pen that’s worth hundreds, maybe thousands of dollars. .'”

Jones says the majority of product placement in film and television is done on a consideration basis rather than in exchange for payment. An example would be a car company lending an expensive car to a set in exchange for an appearance on the show, or S’well water could send a crate of bottles to propmasters for review.

Of course, there are also paid placements, especially with big streaming companies like Netflix and HBO. This is most often a deal made to cut production budgets.

“There’s nothing quite like a $5,000 espresso setup, free,” says Ruby Moshlak, who manages props on film and TV sets.

“Station Eleven”Credit: ViacomCBS Worldwide Distribution

The effects of product placement

Product placement is not always easy to manage.

Blatant product placement can harm a plot and damage the credibility of the project. A recent example that comes to mind is Netflix’s gendered remake He is all that and the constant presentation of bags of Doritos and buckets of KFC chicken that were oddly placed at a high-class teenage pool party. It crosses a kind of line that makes us wary of the film due to its media commercialization.

Specific contracts with products also impose constraints on creative freedoms. Moshlack told The New York Times: “Two years ago I worked on a romantic comedy with really big actors, and it was gross. In every scene there was a money deal in place. There was a kitchen appliance that featured in a third of the movie for over a million dollars, literally written into history.

The success of product placement as a marketing strategy depends on how it works in the reality of the story. This became extremely evident when a character on And just like that had a heart attack while leading a peloton, which caused the actual brand’s stock to plummet.

On the other side of the coin, the Eggo brand was reinvigorated when it was introduced as a key point in the first season of Strange things.

Some companies have been aware of how the products used in a story directly affect their sales. Rian Johnson revealed in a Video from Vanity Fair in 2020, “Apple, they let you use iPhones in movies, but, and this is very important, if you’re watching a mystery movie, the bad guys can’t have iPhones in front of the camera.”

Some filmmakers, like Quentin Tarantino, have created their own fake brands that live in their film universes. Rodolfo Rivas writes in his article, “Tarantinos in the Attic: A Brief History of Quentin Tarantino’s Use of Marks in Storytelling“, that this technique “…is now seen as a necessary element in the narrative, which is necessary to bring some semblance of reality and continuity to a fictional universe.”

Products are a constant part of our daily lives, and we notice something is missing when a character pulls out an unmarked cereal box that is clearly Cheerios, for example. So we have to find that line of a realistic world that doesn’t turn into blatant commercialism.

‘Kill Bill: Volume 1’Credit: Miramax Movies

The future of product placement

Perhaps you no longer have to worry about which brand will be featured in your story (if that’s something you often worry about when staging a set). Tech companies are experimenting with tools to place products in previously recorded shows through an AI solution that can swap a bottle of Pepsi for a bottle of Coke.

Essentially, you can end up selling ad space for different markets with your project. Jones notes that this can be difficult to pull off given that there’s a specific art to choosing what belongs on the screen in the first place, but Amazon disagrees.

Amazon tested a beta version of “virtual product placement” with shows like Reach, Jack Ryanand the Bosch franchise.

“This creates the ability to film your series without thinking about all that is required with traditional placements during production,” said Henrik Bastin, Managing Director of Fabel Entertainment and Executive Producer of Bosch: legacysaid at a conference in May.

“Stranger Things”Credit: netflix

Product placement has its own sense of realism in the world of cinema. You can’t completely separate the fictional world from its real-world influence where brands reign supreme.

What we can do, as filmmakers, is understand the importance of integrating products into a story seamlessly without forcing the audience to watch a specific item with the label facing the camera. Try capturing products in a style that makes the world feel like it’s grounded in a naturally messy reality, or create a story that emphasizes the consumer nature of the story’s world. Not only will the brand be happy to get its 15 seconds (or less) of screen time, but audiences will appreciate the low-key product placement.

Do you have a product placement moment that you prefer less to movies or TV? Let us know why it was awful in the comments below!


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