Television and advertising have always gone hand in hand. We’ve all relished the idea of sitting down to a good film without any interruptions. You know not having it so one second you’re immersed in the climax of a film and the next you’re watching an ad for cat food or toothpaste. Then we all bowed down to the inventor who created the technology that allowed us to skip those pesky advertisements by simply pressing a button, revolutionizing the world of television, as we knew it. However, that was short-lived. Brands had to find other methods to attract customers, something subtle yet effective: brand embedment.
Brand embedment is not a new concept, especially in film. In fact, it goes as far back as the 1920s. Wings (1927) a silent movie about World War I fighter pilots featured a Hershey Chocolate bar. However, the use of product placements grew the most in the 80s. The Evolution of Product Placement 2010, a study by researcher of communications, Alex Walton showed the percentage of placements in film from the 20s to 80s increased by 47%.
Films are a huge way for brands to reach and expand their target audience, but it can be costly. Heineken beer reportedly paid $45 million to have James Bond (Daniel Craig) swap his signature drink – vodka martini, shaken not stirred – for their beer in Skyfall (2012). Product placements are an expensive approach, but they use existing media spaces to reach an already formed audience. Ofcom shows the average adult watches TV for at least four hours a day, making this a simple and easy method with little to no work for a company.
Product placements particularly help indie productions with funding if it’s done well. Some brands might pay to have their product feature in a film. Others give their products for free as Apple is known to do. Props are needed for any film to work, free products mean the budget can be allocated elsewhere. We are left with one other method as seen with in E.T. The Extra Terrestrial (1982), Elliot (Henry Thomas) lured E.T. using Reese’s Pieces. Hershey’s didn’t pay a penny; instead, they negotiated to spend $1 million on promoting the film.
With a small budget of $3.3 million Whiplash (2014) benefited from music brands’ contributions of equipment. Little did the brands know that plastering their logos on-screen would put them on center stage as Whiplash went on to be nominated for five Academy Awards – winning three. This is an example of what brands and indie productions can achieve by working together and integrating products into scenes without losing artistic integrity.
The 2010 study shows that the average number of product placements per film started at four in the 20s and by increased to 21 in the 80s. Brand embedding is continuing to speed up as is apparent in the latest Fast and Furious film (Furious 7), which includes 48 identifiable brands and their products – from cars to beer.
Furious 7 is a great example of bad and good brand embedment. One of the 48 brands featured in the film was Corona. You know that memorable scene when Toretto (Vin Diesel) and Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) are debating on which beer is better and Dominic Toretto says he is more of a Corona man. Corona was also featured in Paul Walker’s tribute sequence in Furious 7. How is this successful? Well, the demand for Corona furiously grew after the film, making it the biggest imported beer in the USA and fifth biggest brew overall. Its prosperity was because it wasn’t unbelievable. In the first film of the franchise, there is a house party scene where the Corona plays a big part. Being continuously referenced throughout the franchise keeps the cohesion and plays a large part in its success. It’s all about context and come on be honest how many of us watched Paul Walker’s tribute over and over again?
Context is king as evident by the other 47 product placements, such as Dell or Samsung who haven’t enjoyed the same success as Corona. The reason being they didn’t share the same continuity. In previous Fast and Furious films, Nokia phones and Dell laptops are featured rather than Samsung and Apple products. Corona’s success proves it is all about context and cohesion.
Everywhere we turn there is an advertisement. Because of this our eyes are trained to recognise ads. Successful brand embedment is doing just what it says: embedding the product into the film’s plot. The Internship (2013) has the perfect comedic pairing of Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn, a reasonably amusing plot and potential – just from this, you’d think this would be an entertaining worthwhile film to watch. Well, you couldn’t be more wrong. The Internship falls apart when it is no longer a film but a two-hour advertisement for Google. Not to mention it was a box office flop. It had a $58 million budget and made $44 million domestically ($93 million worldwide), that’s an unofficial $12 million loss for The Internship.
Product placements were once a sophisticated marketing tool, which is now becoming a means of funding a film. The film industry and producers are left with a decision to make: receive funding through product placement or give your viewers something they will actually want to watch. Integrating ads can work great for all three parties – the film production, advertisers and for the audience as long as the artistic integrity isn’t hindered.
Watch our video on the worst product placement in film.