An Ephemeral Look at Product Placement

There are plenty of lists detailing the worst product placement in movies; the fantastic’s The 10 Most Shameful Product Placements in Movie History is worth a look in particular. Everyone knows how E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial was originally meant to use M&Ms rather than Reese’s Pieces, and that sales of the latter increased by 85% after the release of the 1982 film (Janet Wasko, Hollywood in the Information Age, 1995, p.190). Rather than compile another list or rehash more facts, I thought I would look at some interesting points (the term ‘highlights’ may be misleading at this juncture, as may the term ‘interesting’) throughout the history of product placement in Hollywood.

The Old Timey Product Placement

Product placement in the movies is nothing new, despite its prominence in the last thirty years. In 1945’s Mildred Pierce, Joan Crawford’s drink of choice was Jack Daniels. The placement of this brand was less obvious than some more recent attempts at promoting drinks.

The Quintessential 80s Product Placement

Part of the reason Santa Claus: The Movie holds a special place in my heart is because of the shameless product placement of those most high-profile of brands; Coca-Cola and McDonald’s. It is made all the more amusing by the fact that the film appears to propagate an anti-capatilist message. The McDonalds product placement complemented the Santa Claus: The Movie Happy Meal toys (as seen in the above advertisement). Product placement tie-ins truly reached a zenith in the mid 1980s.

The Mundane Product Placement

In late 2011, Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol heavily feaured BMW cars. Earlier that year, How Do You Know featured another type of transport. The Metrobus was omnipresent in James L. Brooks’ film. In the movie, this mode of New York transport was punctual, reliable and clean. Only natives of the city can say how reliable this depiction is. As product placements go, it is hardly the most glamorous.

The Greatest Movie Ever Sold is out on DVD from 27th February 2012.

Film Review: How Do You Know

It might seem like an extended commercial for Metrobus, but How Do You Know is actually a romantic comedy. Although the comedy aspect of this pairing is debatable.

Lisa, a member of the US softball team, is an upbeat 31 year old. When she is cut from the team, Lisa ponders her next step. She is dating baseball player Matty, when she meets George, a businessman struggling with his own crisis…

How Do You Know boasts a great cast as well as James L. Brooks at the helm writing and directing, but sadly the film just is not funny. Hopes for any improvement with the humour diminishes as the film continues, leaving only a few jokes that are mildly amusing. How Do You Know is not painfully unfunny; humour, however, is noticeably absent.

The characters in the film are well written, and show more depth than the average rom-com archetypes. Although Matty and George are inevitably polarised, both are depicted as having positive and negative attributes. Although one is favoured over the other, there is no good guy/bad guy scenario.

Perhaps more interesting than the love triangle is the sub-plot concerning George’s legal troubles. This story elucidates George’s relationship with his father, which works far better as drama than it does as comedy. It gives How Do You Know a meatier feel, elevating the film above the category of mere fluff.

How Do You Know has a classical feel to it, despite being a contemporary-set film. Characters often travel by bus, and there isn’t a reliance on modern technology. It seems as if Brooks aimed to create a film in the same vein as Manhattan, with the integral city setting and the narrative that focuses heavily on relationship dilemmas. Unfortunately, How Do You Know falls considerably short of this, thanks to poor pacing and insufficient comedy.

Casting of the film is faultless, How Do You Know features a high calibre of star. Reese Witherspoon is as likeable as ever as Lisa, and Owen Wilson is perfectly cast as fun-loving athlete Matty. Paul Rudd is suitably earnest as George, the most serious character in the film. Jack Nicholson is underused as George’s father Charles.

The romantic elements work fine, but How Do You Know‘s lack of humour is insurmountable. The film’s two-hour running time is really noticeable, on account of the poor direction. Brooks fails to deliver with How Do You Know, despite the promising cast.