Mini Cooper——The Italian Job (2003)
The 2003 film The Italian Job is a remake of the 1969 heist movie of the same name. The original stars Michael Caine, Benny Hill and several Mini Coopers, and when the film was remade with Mark Wahlberg, the filmmakers used the current model of the iconic car. BMW happily obliged them and provided the production with more than 30 cars.
The film was only moderately successful, but the product placement worked like a charm. BusinessWeek reported that since the film’s 2003 release, the car experienced a 22% increase in sales over the previous year. However, the placement may have worked too well. Film critic Stephanie Zacharek’s review of the film stated that, “the real star of ‘The Italian Job’ is not a person but a car.”
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If you do a Google search for “product placement” and “movies,” the story of E.T. and Reese’s Pieces is guaranteed to come up. In the 1982 Steven Spielberg blockbuster, a boy named Elliot leaves a trail of the candies for the lovable alien, who follows them to the boy’s house. The rest is history.
Spielberg originally wanted to use the much more popular M&M’s in the movie, but when the filmmakers approached the Mars company, they were turned down. Hershey, on the other hand, said yes, and subsequently saw their product appear in one of the highest-grossing films of all time. They benefited immensely from the placement, and according to a 1983 People magazine article, their profits rose 65% as a result.
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The 1983 comedy Risky Business is both the movie that launched Tom Cruise’s career and the movie that saved Ray-Ban’s Wayfarer sunglasses from extinction. Cruise plays Joel, a suburban high school student whose parents go out of town for the weekend, leaving him free to dance around the house in his underwear. His character wears Ray-Ban’s Wayfarer sunglasses, which became so popular as a result that 360,000 pairs were sold that year.
The placement did more than just shift units; it literally pulled the product back from the brink. Just two years earlier, Ray-Ban had sold an anemic 18,000 pairs of Wayfarers, and they were close to discontinuing them entirely. However, in 1982, the company hired Unique, a Burbank product placement firm, and they got the sunglasses into 60 different films and TV shows in the next five years, Risky Business included. As a result, they made their way onto the faces of many of the 1980s’ major celebrities, and by 1986, 1.5 million pairs had sold.
The film also gave an unsolicited shout-out to Porsche. At one point in the film, Joel is involved in a car chase, and he escapes in his father’s Porsche 928. After getting away, he says, “Porsche: There is no substitute,” the company’s tag line at the time. While there are no figures to indicate whether this helped the German automaker move a single car off of the lot, it certainly couldn’t have hurt.
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You’ve Got Mail is a romantic comedy with Tom Hanks (Joe) and Meg Ryan (Kathleen) in the leading roles. It’s a story about two letter-writing lovers who are completely unaware that their sweetheart is in fact the person with whom they share a certain degree of hostility. The movie is a remake of the Ernst Lubitsch movie The Shop Around the Corner, but You’ve Got Mail updated that concept with the use of e-mail.
According to Jean-Marc Lehu’s book Branded Entertainment the movie’s title was initially You Have Mail. But the world’s leading instant messaging service at that time, America On Line (AOL), was using an expression “you’ve got mail” to alert its users that a new mail had arrived. AOL and Warner Bros. somehow manage to convince the director (Nora Ephron) to change the movie title, in order to achieve some mutual benefits.
The other notable product placement in the movie was Starbucks. The main characters drink coffee in Starbucks and they also meet there. Joe even said: “The whole purpose of places like Starbucks is for people with no decision-making ability whatsoever to make six decisions just to buy one cup of coffee. Short, tall, light, dark, caf, decaf, low-fat, non-fat, etc. So people who don’t know what the hell they’re doing or who on earth they are can, for only $2.95, get not just a cup of coffee but an absolutely defining sense of self: Tall. Decaf. Cappuccino.”
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How would you feel if there would be only one restaurant in the future?
Well, in the movie Demolition Man (1993), which was set in 2032, Taco Bell is the only restaurant left in existence. In the movie, it is presented as a fine dining establishment, complete with valet parking and a dance floor. However, PepsiCo, Taco Bell’s and Pizza Hut’s parent company, decided that some movie scenes will be filmed twice. Taco Bell, which wasn’t widely known outside the US, was replaced with Pizza Hut. This included dubbing and changing the logos during post-production. Today, you can find two different versions of the film in circulation (or online).
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Spinach in Popeye
Popeye the Sailor is a fictional hero who appeared in comic books and animated films as well as numerous television shows. He was created by Elzie Crisler Segar and emerged in the daily King Features comic strip Thimble Theatre on January 17, 1929. In 1933 Fleischer Studios adapted the characters into a series of Popeye the Sailor theatrical cartoon shorts for Paramount Pictures.
One of Popeye’s characteristics was eating spinach to become stronger. Apparently Popeye’s popularity helped boost sale of spinach: the consumption increased 33 percent in the United States between 1931 and 1936 as Popeye gained popularity, saving the spinach industry in the 1930s.
And according to one study from 2010 children can increase their vegetable consumption after watching Popeye cartoons. It appears that the spinach had to be combined with stories of giant muscles and super strength.
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Coca-Cola in The Gods Must Be Crazy
Coca-Cola is a truly global brand, available in (almost) every country and with very high brand recognition. Therefore Coca-Cola’s placements need to be very creative or at least very visible/recognized. But sometimes the brand is included in the movie without the permission of the parent company. That was the case in the movie The Gods Must Be Crazy, a 1980 South African production that involved a Coca-Cola bottle. The Atlanta giant had not been contacted by the director Jamie Uys when he had the idea to use it in the movie.
One day a Coca-Cola bottle falls from the skies and lands near Bushman Xi. Xi’s family finds creative uses for it, but eventually the Coke bottle causes the Bushmen band unhappiness. So, Xi decides that the bottle is an evil thing and must be thrown off of the edge of the world. He sets out alone on his quest and encounters Western civilization for the first time. Even though the Coca-Cola bottle is presented as an evil thing, the movie’s overall positive tone doesn’t hurt brand’s image.
Peugeot 406 in Taxi trilogy
Taxi is a 1998 French film, produced by Luc Besson. It takes place in Marseille, France, and involves an aspiring race car driver named Daniel, who initially works as a pizza delivery boy, but changes jobs to become a taxi driver. He drives a supercharged Peugeot 406. When he’s finally caught, he’s forced to help the police, who are on a trail of German bank robber. In terms of box office admissions, the Taxi trilogy (1998–2003) is one of the most successful French franchises ever, grossing a reported total of $200 million worldwide and 23 million admissions in France.
This product placement was very interesting, because the screenplay offers a convincing integration for the brand and at the same time fun for the movie goers. As the central ‘character’, the car even appeared on the film posters and on the covers of CDs and DVDs. According to Jean-Marc Lehu’s book Branded Entertainment the placement of Peugeot cars considerably improved the brand’s image with young people and internally. Undoubtedly it also had a knock-on effect on sales of the model.
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Chevrolet Camaro in Transformers
In 2007 Transformers was the third biggest movie in the USA. It included one of the most obvious cases of product placement prostitution in recent years. There were countless brands included; among them: GMC, Chevrolet Camaro, ebay, Nokia…
However, Chevrolet Camaro was a very interesting placement. The fifth generation of this vehicle went on sale in the spring of 2009, so in 2007, when the movie was released, movie goers could not buy the car. It was a long wait but the movie created a buzz and helped building the expectations. GM said that following the release of the Transformers on DVD, the company received more than 500,000 requests for more information about the car. In 2009 GM decided to put Camaro in the movie sequel: Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. This was another success. The release of the movie coincided with the start of sales and Chevrolet ended 2009 with 61,618 Camaros sold.
White Castle in Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle
Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle is a 2004 American movie and White Castle is a fast-food hamburger restaurant chain in the Eastern United States. It is known for its small, square hamburgers. The movie story follows Harold Lee and Kumar Patel as they decide to go to the fast food chain White Castle after smoking cannabis, but end up on a series of comical misadventures when they cannot find the restaurant.
Apparently Krispy Kreme, an American chain of doughnut stores, was also approached to play a role in the movie, but they didn’t want to be included in such a movie. White Castle had no objections and even decided to promote the movie with collectible cups, radio ads and signage. According to some reports they didn’t pay for product placement. A great coup if you consider that the brand name was in the movie title, the restaurant can be seen in the movie and the main characters talked about the brand.
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IKEA in Fight Club
IKEA had an interesting role in one of the best movies from 1999: Fight Club. The main character Jack (Edward Norton) was obsessed with IKEA: “Like everyone else, I had become a slave to the IKEA nesting instinct. If I saw something clever like the coffee table in the shape of a yin and yang, I had to have it. I would flip through catalogues and wonder, “What kind of dining set defines me as a person?” I had it all. Even the glass dishes with tiny bubbles and imperfections, proof they were crafted by the honest, simple, hard-working indigenous peoples of wherever.”
A modern guy’s sitting in the bathroom with IKEA furniture catalogue instead of some porn magazine? Brilliant.
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Ford Gran Torino in Gran Torino
Clint Eastwood’s Gran Torino (2008) is far from a perfect movie ,just as James Berardinelli said: “Despite its flaws, I appreciate Gran Torino, although I do so more with my heart than with my head.”
Movie’s central piece is Walt Kowalski (Eastwood), an unpleasant and grumpy war veteran. Following the death of his wife, he lives alone with his dog and he barely speaks with his sons and grandchildren. He also has somehow difficult relationship with his neighbours, an Asian family. The complications start when their son Thao attempts to steal Walt’s 1972 Ford Gran Torino as part of a gang initiation.
Eastwood used Ford’s Gran Torino as one of the central points in order to show differences among cultures. Walt is a former Ford employee and a real patriot. He even described his son with the sentence: “I work in the Ford factory for 50 years, and he’s out selling Japanese cars.”
Ford Torino is an intermediate car produced by the Ford Motor Company for the North American market between 1968 and 1976. Product placement in Gran Torino worked on several levels, even though Ford doesn’t produce the car anymore. Car’s name was used in the title of the film and in the Jamie Cullum’s title song, its image was used as the background of the poster and several scenes were developed around Gran Torino. But the most interesting aspect of this product placement was a clear message: “If you’re American and you love your country, buy an American car, buy Ford.”
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